The Golden Elixir Taoism Essays Chart of the Great Ultimate

Chart of the Great Ultimate (Taiji tu)

Golden Elixir essays

● Essays on Taoism
● Essays on Taoist Alchemy

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Yin and Yang

The relations among the different cosmological configurations that intervene between the Dao and the "ten thousand things" are illustrated in the Chart of the Great Ultimate (Taiji tu), which was discussed at length by both Taoist and Neo-Confucian authors. Texts in the Daozang (Taoist Canon) contain several versions of this chart; the one reproduced below is the best-known version.

Chart of the Great Ultimate

On top, the chart depicts the Absolute (wuji) as an empty circle.

Below is another circle that represents the Great Ultimate (taiji) as harboring the Two, or Yin and Yang, shown as two semicircles that mirror each other. Each semicircle is made of black (Yin) and white (Yang) lines that enclose each other, to depict Yin containing True Yang and Yang containing True Yin. The empty circle within these lines corresponds to the empty circle on top, alluding to the notion that Yin and Yang are the "function" or "operation" (yong) of Emptiness, which in turn is their "substance" or "core" (ti).

Following this are the five agents (wuxing), which constitute a further stage in the progressive differentiation from Oneness to multiplicity. The lines that connect the Agents to each other show the sequence in which they are generated, namely Wood, Fire, Soil, Metal, and Water. In the configuration of the five agents, the Great Ultimate is represented by the central Soil (which is said to have a "male" and a "female" aspect) and reappears as the small empty circle below, which represents the conjunction of Water and Fire ("Great Yin" and "Great Yang") and of Wood and Metal ("Minor Yang" and "Minor Yin").

The circle below the five agents represents the joining of Heaven and Earth, or the active and passive principles that respectively give birth to and support the existence of the "ten thousand things." The state of multiplicity is represented by the circle at the base of the diagram.