Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophical and religious tradition, whose doctrinal foundations can be found in three texts: the Daodejing, the Zhuangzi and the Liezi. I will quote some verses, chosen 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 lean one towards the other,
before and after follow each other”.
“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”.
“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”.
“Everything disappears and reappears, full and empty alternate, every end is also a beginning”.
“Growth and decline, fullness and emptiness, end and beginning, 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 that presides over all beings”.
“Life transforms into death, death is the beginning of life. Life and death transform each into the other: why then should we be upset about them?”.
“For those who know the heavenly joy life is a motion according to nature, death a change of form”.
“The ten thousand beings (a peculiar taoist expression that refers to the infinite multiplicity of living forms that exist in the universe) and I are one single thing”.
“The ten thousand creatures are one single thing, but what they find beautiful is vitality and individuality, what they find ugly is stench and putrefaction. But stench and putrefaction transform into vitality and individuality, vitality and individuality transform into stench and putrefaction”.
“The ten thousand things transform incessantly and we don’t know what presides over change. How can we know what is an end? How can we know what is a beginning?”.
“The beginning is the end of something, the end is the beginning of something else”.
“What is born returns to the unborn, what has form returns to the formless. What lives must necessarily die and what dies cannot help but die, as well as what is born cannot help but be born. So the yin and the yang alternate, so the four seasons follow each other”.
Finally, I would like to talk about 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!