Chinese Yin Yang Philosophy: Confucius, Lao Tzu and Bruce Lee

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A stone sculpture of Lao Tzu, located north of Quanzhou at the foot of Mount Qingyuan

“Happiness is to be found by misery’s side. Misery lurks beneath happiness. Who knows what either will come to in the end?” said ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu in his Taoist classic Tao Te Ching (Chapter 58). This quotation indicates a very important principle of ancient Chinese philosophies: the change of yin and yang.

According to I Ching (Book of Changes), yin and yang lurk beneath each other, and they will transform in certain circumstances. Yin and Yang cover everything in people’s daily lives, including Feng Shui, astrology, and martial arts. As happiness can be yang and misery can be yin, Lao Tzu’s saying has a same meaning with the quotation of I Ching.

Chinese Idiom: Misfortune May Prove a Blessing in Disguise

A story in Huai Nan Zi, an ancient Chinese book covers the philosophies of Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism, illustrates this principle: One day, an old man lost his horse and everyone commiserated with him. But the old man said, “Perhaps this will soon turn out to be a blessing.” A few days later, his horse came back with a wild horse. Everyone congratulated him. But he said, “Perhaps this will soon turn out to be a misery.” Later his son broke his leg falling from the back of the wild horse. Everyone commiserated with him. But the old man again said, “Perhaps this will soon turn out to be a blessing.” One year later, a war started and all the able-bodied young men were enlisted taking up arms and many people died. But the old man’s son survived because he was crippled.

Later this story became an idiom: Sai Weng Shi Ma, Yan Zhi Fei Fu (Losing a horse may be a blessing). It means that misfortune may prove a blessing in disguise.

Confucius Sayings and Bruce Lee Quotes: Yin Yang Philosophy

Another classic book Lie Zi has a similar story. But the main character had been changed: An old man was blind. The great thinker Confucius said, “This is a good sign.” One year later the old man’s son was blind too, and Confucius told him again that it’s a good sign. Later a war started and both the father and the son survived. In this story, loss proves a gain in disguise.

Yin and Yang are also important concepts in traditional Chinese Kung Fu such as Tai Chi and Ba Gua. Martial artist Bruce Lee also put this principle into his Jeet Kune Do philosophy. “They (various types of martial arts) each have their strong points and weak points. They can only see their strong points, but not their week points,” said Bruce Lee. Here the strong points are yang. But there are weak points (yin) lurk beneath the strong points, which confine the martial arts by their dead forms.

Sources:

  1. Unknown: I Ching (also known as Book of Changes, Classic of Changes, or Zhouyi; before 600B.C.)
  2. Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (about 500B.C.)
  3. Liu Xiang, Huai Nan Zi (about 135B.C.)
  4. Confucius and students, the Analects (about 450B.C.–250B.C.)
  5. Bruce Lee, John Little, Jeet Kune Do: Bruce Lee’s Commentaries on the Martial Way