How do the concepts of Yin and Yang help explain the two main Chinese religious traditions of Taoism and Confucianism?

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The idea of Yin and Yang permeates not only these two schools of thought but scores of philosophies, ideologies, and religions in eastern culture. The core concept of Yin and Yang is abstract but fairly simple. It is a concept that implies that the universe is largely governed by a...

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The idea of Yin and Yang permeates not only these two schools of thought but scores of philosophies, ideologies, and religions in eastern culture. The core concept of Yin and Yang is abstract but fairly simple. It is a concept that implies that the universe is largely governed by a binary or, more explicitly, a duality. This duality can be represented in many different ways, such as light and dark, good and evil, or even push and pull. The idea is that the very nature of the universe implies some sort of contention, some balancing act that pushes it forward in time. Indeed, the virtue at the center of the idea of Yin and Yang is balance.

It is not hard to see the relation between the concept and Taoism. In fact, some scholars maintain that Yin and Yang originates completely from Taoism. In this philosophy, harmony and balance, in not only nature but self as well, are of the utmost importance and virtue.

In terms of Confucianism, the idea of Yin and Yang is related to the struggle of humanity to reach its most ideal form. In this way of thinking, the struggle of man to be morally upright is constantly at odds with his more base desires that cause him to be self-serving and morally relative. The big difference when thinking about Yin and Yang this way is that, from this point of view, the "push and pull" of these forces is inevitable but not ideal.

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Both systems have the concepts of Yin and Yang somewhere inside of them, if not explicitly. Yin and Yang are the ideas of opposites working together to create a complete unit, while each is slightly instilled with a bit of the other.

Taoism explicitly follows the ideas of Yin and Yang, and it seeks balance with the natural state of the universe. Yin and Yang represent the balance of the self and creating a unity with nature and strength within oneself in order to remain morally upright.

Confucianism, however, is much more philosophical and separate from nature, stating that ethics are formed through three pillars and that humanity must strive to become moral beings and improve themselves. These pillars are altruism, righteousness, and morality.

Interestingly, between the two, they display a sort of Yin/Yang structure: they are opposites in their ideas, but both work together to strive for morality. Taoism seeks to unify oneself with the universe and to create balance with nature, thus achieving morality, while Confucianism seeks to work inwardly, focusing on the actions and attitudes of the individual, also in an effort to achieve morality.

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The concepts of Yin and Yang are ancient and significant in Asian culture. They are not limited to any one faith or philosophy, and they permeate and encompass the wide range of Eastern thought. Yin and Yang are represented by a well-known image which shows both the difference and oneness of black and white. Yin and Yang do not just represent opposite colors, however. It also represents male/female, good/evil, easy/difficult, and so on.

Tsou Yen (340–c. 260? BCE) led the Yin Yang School in present-day Shandong, China. Yin Yang spread to Japan, where it became known as in-yō, and its concepts still influence aspects of Japanese culture. For instance, the Japanese believe in lucky and unlucky days.

I believe Yin and Yang are paramount in Taoism. "The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang," the Tao Te Ching says. This saying, from the forty-second chapter, is the only direct reference to Yin and Yang, but Taoism stresses harmony in all things. In Taoism, the importance of maintaining balance in nature is key.

Confucianism is more concerned with social relationships than with nature. In Confucianism, therefore, Yin and Yang represent the proper relationship between different members of society. For Confucius, the right ceremony was important for maintaining a balanced society.

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The Yin and Yang are a circular symbol that represents the opposition of two separate but equal forces. In its shape, which turns and revolves without either side gaining dominance, it shows how forces in nature always strive to seek balance.

Taoism has elements of the Yin/Yang philosophy as its basis; the individual, by practicing Taoism, seeks to gain balance with the Tao, or the natural state of all that is, was, and will be. It is less a form of acceptance -- "what will be, will be" -- and more a form of strengthening the self so nature cannot overpower, but instead is complimented and used as well as it uses. Since Taoism absorbs works from a wide range of authors, it always seeks to find the balance between different philosophies for the greatest compatibility with the basic Taoist beliefs; thus, the Yin/Yang is the balance between the self -- with all its variables -- and the Tao.

Confucianism is more complicated. Briefly, it holds that human beings are capable of improving themselves so that their lifestyles are in sync both with nature and with the humanistic principles of ren (altruism), yi (righteousness), and li (moral behavior). Confucianism is not a theistic belief system, placing all moral decisions and responsibilities on the human being, so all ethical morality stems from action and reaction. In this case, the Yin/Yang is less inherent in the system itself, and instead would be applied to a person's actions in the world; it would be morally obligatory to right your own wrongs, and to intervene in injustices, which in itself returns the inherent balance of the world.

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