Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophical/religious tradition, whose doctrinal foundations can be found in three texts: the Tao Te Ching, the Zhuangzi and the Liezi. I will quote some verses, taken from these works, that reveal a doctrine of opposites comparable to that of Heraclitus, also in relation to the concept of “panta rei” (“everything flows”):
“When in the world everyone acknowledges beauty as such,
that’s when ugliness is already present.
When everyone acknowledges goodness as such,
that’s when badness is already present.
Therefore being and non-being generate each other,
difficult and easy complement each other,
long and short define each other,
tall and low hang down one towards the other,
before and after follow each other.”
-Tao Te Ching
“What you want to contract you must first expand,
what you want to weaken you must first strengthen,
what you want to refuse you must first exalt,
what you want to take you must first give.”
-Tao Te Ching
“The growing and the decreasing, the full and the empty, when one comes to an end the other has its beginning”.
“Increase and decrease, become full and become empty, finish and start again, here is the cycle of the world. In this way must be understood the great task that looms to each one, and the universal order presiding over all the beings”.
“Between night and day there is no separation and I don’t know at what moment they end”
“Under the sky everything sinks and resurfaces without ever perishing”.
“For those who know the heavenly joy life is a motion according to nature, death a change of form”.
“This unity, dividing itself, forms the beings, and, forming the beings, it destroys itself. So every being has no completion nor destruction, because is reabsorbed in the original unity”.
“The ten thousand creatures (a peculiar taoist expression that refers to the infinite multiplicity of living forms that exists in the universe) are a single thing, but what they find beautiful is the vitality and the individuality, what they find ugly is the stench and the putrefaction. But the stench and the putrefaction turn into vitality and individuality, the vitality and the individuality turn into stench and putrefaction”.
“The ten thousand creatures and I are the one”.
“The great wisdom embraces everything, the little wisdom distinguishes”.
“The beginning is the end of something, the end is the beginning of something else”.
“You have fun because things are never the same, without knowing that we also are never the same”.
“What is alive can’t not live, what is transformed can’t not be transformed. Eternal life and eternal transformation means to always be alive and always be transformed, like the yin and the yang, like the four seasons”.
Finally, I would like to talk a bit of the Taijitu, a well known taoist symbol.
In this symbol, Yin and Yang (the origin of this symbolic dualism [whose primal manifestation is identifiable in the “first couple” formed by Earth and Sky] is ascribed to the observation of the shadowed side and the sunny side of a mountain) are two necessary and complementary ways of being of the same reality (and in their maximum metaphysical dimension they represent the philosophical concepts of Being and Becoming, that, as a result of the coincidentia oppositorum [“coincidence of opposites”], appear as two ways of being of a single principle, two different manifestations of a same and single reality, the Tao [the word Tao is represented by an ideographic character that unites the signs of the head and of the foots, i.e. unites the complementary opposites in an undifferentiated totality], the Universal Totality, the definitive metaphysical reality where the opposites coincide), and their intrinsic interrelation is shown by the fact that at the culmination of each of the two there is a seed of the other. Light and darkness are two subsequent aspects of a unique reality, their apparent distinction and opposition supports the harmony of a cyclical process. When the light energy (Yang) reaches its culmination, then begins to grow the dark energy (Yin), and vice versa, they transform constantly one into the other. The opposites generate themselves reciprocally and each is the other’s shadow!