Yin-Yang and The Ten Thousand Things

The traditional yin-yang (feminine/dark-masculine/light) symbol below shows a bit of yin in yang and of yang in yin.


A phrase that appears often in Tao Te Ching is “the ten-thousand things,” as in this excerpt from that book:

Tao begot one
One begot two
Two begot three
And three begot the ten-thousand things.
The ten-thousand things carry yin and embrace yang
They achieve harmony by combining these forces
— Tao Te Ching, Chapter 42

This image below, Yin, Yang and the Ten-Thousand Things, came to me in meditation around 1988. It shows yin-yang opening up and bringing forth their rainbow children, all of creation, the “ten-thousand things.” 

available as an art-quality print

Expanding on that traditional symbol and rather than seeing yin and yang as opposites, we can realize a co-creative balance of masculine yang and feminine yin in our lives, so that their children, the rainbow of our creativity, the ten-thousand things, can be born.

Tao may be found not only in the undivided ground of being, nor solely in the polarity of yin and yang, dark and light, dynamic and receptive, but also everywhere in the full rainbow spectrum of the ten-thousand things: all the myriad ways the un-nameable whole is divided into discrete beings.
—from page 16 in the book A Rainbow of Tao

On the facing page in that book I placed this photo that seemed like the traditional yin/yang symbol made manifest in the world of nature.

50 Years with Tao

First, a bit of history —

When, in 1971, Gia-fu Feng and I were negotiating our Tao Te Ching contract with Random House, he wanted the book to be his, with me getting just a small one-time fee for the use of my photos to illustrate his translation. Somehow, I had the courage to stand up for myself, to value my own creativity and insist that we be compensated equally, dividing the royalties 50-50. I overcame any tendency to defer to a man, to a person who was 23 years my senior, and to an elder who was learned in an ancient tradition I did not think I understood.

cover of 25th anniversary edition of our Tao Te Ching – 1997

Some of the deference did creep back in over the years as this younger, white woman was often subtly questioned about my qualifications to speak with any authority about Tao Te Ching.

A next step — 

Starting with 1991 I have created Tao Calendars that feature excerpts from Tao Te Ching with my photos and Gia-fu’s calligraphy.

One evening in 2003, when the Tao Calendar publishers at Amber Lotus and I were riding in their car in Portland, Oregon (after dinner? or from the airport?), we had a conversation about what I might do next with Tao. They suggested I might have something to say about Tao having at that point been working with Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tsu for over 30 years.

So I got a small notebook, covered with Chinese-looking cloth, that I kept in my purse so I could make notes whenever I thought of something interesting about Tao. Looking again at those notes tonight for the first time in many years, I notice there was over and over a questioning of the use of words — this is built-in when dealing with Tao Te Ching that begins with what can be paraphrased as, “The Tao that can be told is not the real Tao; the name that can be named is not the true name.” That questioning also emerged from remnants of my old self-doubt — did I really have anything to say?

Many of the notes I made in this notebook over the next few months are now part of the text in my 2018 book, A Rainbow of Tao (initially the title was simply Rainbow Tao).

About 2006 – layout work for A Rainbow of Tao

After working for a couple of years on the words and photos in that book I set it aside about 2007, picking it up again about 2017, and finishing it in 2018.

Near the end of the book I wrote,  “I recently became aware that through all these years of work on the Tao books and calendars I have carried a nagging uncertainty as to the appropriateness of my doing this work, being a woman, having European ancestors, and knowing no Chinese at all — yet I did do the work.“ 


And now, 2021 — 

With sales of the annual Tao Calendar decreasing after a run of 31 years, a couple of days ago my publisher let me know they planned to discontinue the Tao Calendar after the 2022 edition that is currently in the works. My initial reaction was deep disappointment, then just letting it go, letting my work/play with Tao be a part of the past. I recalled this 2019 dream:

The next day, yesterday, I was again wanting the calendar to continue. I sent the publisher an email about marketing efforts I recently began to do, and suggested various ways we could keep the calendar alive.

This morning they called and we had a really good conversation — they are long-time friends. As we talked, my telling the dream about being a spiritual bum evoked great laughter.

This afternoon I got an email saying they will publish the 2023 edition. Decisions about later calendars will depend on the success of the 2022 edition. This now “old” woman who is about to enter her 80th year will take their marketing suggestion and learn how to share images in Instagram — using a desktop computer since I still resist getting a so-called “smart” phone. Doing this might even be fun!

a preview of the 2023 front cover – the 2022 edition will come before this!

I end this writing with gratitude to my friends at Amber Lotus for their support, past and present, as I learn yet again to let go of that which is to be let go and to treasure what is to remain. Thank you! 

See amberlotus.com for more Illuminating Spirit in the World

Who is Tao?

Here in the West, language structures our world into objects and actions. We have nouns and we have verbs. Among the nouns we make a distinction between the “whats” and the “whos,” between inanimate things and living beings.

Translations from Chinese usually treat Tao as a noun; however, Tao cannot be so neatly categorized. It is both noun and verb; it is neither noun nor verb. Nor is it easily classified either as a “who” or as a “what.”

A defining statement of our Western culture is found in the Gospel of John,
“In the beginning was the Word . . .” 

Yet Tao Te Ching begins with a starkly contrasting line that roughly translates as,
“The Tao that can be put into words is not the real Tao.”

Mindful of the paradox of using words and images to approach Tao, I invite you to enter this book with a spirit of adventure. Explore with me this Tao that has over the past few decades come from the Far East into our Western world.

This is from the first page of my 2018 book, A Rainbow of Tao