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Dualism


Whereas polytheism conceptualizes sacred power as many different forms, dualism conceptualizes sacred power as two distinct forces that are either in conflict with one another or that work together to bring balance to the cosmos.

Dualism and Cosmic Balance

An example of two opposing forces is found in indigenous Chinese religion. In Chinese religion there has long been a belief that a single, impersonal force orders the universe. This force flows through all things. (Think of the change of the seasons). That force is called the Dao (the Way). 

The Dao is actually made up of two basic energies: yin is the negative, dark force that is usually associated with the feminine; yang is the positive, bright force that is considered to be masculine.  The interplay between these two forces is responsible for both balance and change in the universe. The change of seasons, the cycle of birth, life, and death, and the rise and fall of governments are all controlled by the Dao. Although one principle may dominate for a while, the imbalance that is created when one principle dominates cannot be sustained. Neither the yin nor the yang can exist alone. The natural tendency is for the Dao to be balanced.

The implication of a belief in an impersonal force that balances all things is that individuals should live in harmony with the Dao in order to ensure balance in their own lives and, thus, in the world. Therefore, in classical, philosophic Daoism, there was very little emphasis on worship of the gods; indeed, any sort of "personal" relationship with the Dao was not possible. The Dao is an impersonal force that is equally at work in a rock and a human being. One simply needed to live simply in harmony with the Dao.

Even though a personal relationships with the impersonal force of the Dao was not possible, it was considered possible to discern what needed to be done to live in harmony with the Dao. Since the Doa was working in all things, its nature could be discerned in various occurrences. Even the pattern or cracks on a heated bone or turtle shell revealed the nature of the Dao. The Book of Changes (or I-Ching) from the 3rd Century BC, describes how tossing coins could be used to discern the mysteries of the Dao. Each coin would land on heads (yin) or tails (yang). The three results were recorded as three lines: a broken line for yin and a solid line for yang. By tossing the coin 6 times, a series of tri grams could be produced. The I Ching describes the patterns and their meanings. (Note: The Korean flag includes the series of tri grams).

Again, remember that the underlying principle here is that the Dao is active in all things - even in the way that a coin lands. Consequently, by observing these events, one can gain insight into living in harmony with the Dao.

For an example of how the I Ching works, visit the Virtual I-Ching Web site.

Note that Daoism had a profound impact on Buddhism in China. In fact, Zen Buddhism is the direct result of a combination of Buddhist and Daoist principles. Daoism and general and the I-Ching in particular were also important in Confucian thought.