Yin and Yang: The Supreme Ultimate

Tongdosa

The Yin and Yang symbol found at Tongdosa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The Yin and Yang symbol is so ingrained in Korean society and culture that it even appears on the Korean national flag. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that it also appears in Korean Buddhism. So why exactly does it appear at Korean Buddhist temples? What does it mean? And what are its origins?

flag-world-south-korea[1]

The Korean national flag with the Yin and Yang symbol squarely set in the centre.

It is commonly believed that the Yin and Yang (or Supreme Ultimate) was first associated with Korean Confucianism. However, this long held belief is false. The oldest example of the Yin and Yang sign in Korea appears at the remains of  Gameunsa Temple upon the remnants of the stone foundations. Interestingly, the temple was constructed in 682, which is a full 700 years before the earliest existence of Korean Confucianism in the 1390’s.

The Yin and Yang symbol in fact has two different renderings. The first, which also appears on the Korean flag, is The Dual Commas (or fish) Yin and Yang symbol. The Dual Commas symbol seems independent, and yet, they are dependent and fused together. This highlights how all things in the universe are interconnected.

Donghaksa

A fading double comma Supreme Ultimate from Donghaksa Temple.

The other Yin and Yang symbol is the Triple Commas symbol. This symbol represents the Three Powers: Heaven, Earth, and humankind. It also symbolizes the Three Laws. The first of these three laws state that Yin + Yang = Heaven. The second law states that softness + hardness = the Way for Earth. And the third and final law states that Benevolence + Righteousness = the Way for Humankind. With all this in mind, the Triple Commas also having the same meaning as the Double Comma: that all things are interdependent. And that all forms of existence in the universe are equal, no matter their perceived insignificance. This idea is perhaps what appeals to Korean Buddhism the most.

Changdeokgung

A triple comma design from Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul.

For all the symbolic meaning stated above, it is no small wonder that the Yin and Yang symbol came to adorn Korean Buddhist temples. The symbol, whether it be a double comma or triple comma, embodies the principles and beliefs of reciprocity and interconnectedness which is central to Buddhism.

 So the next time you see the Korean national flag, or even the symbol with two or three commas, you’ll know the meaning of interconnectedness and reciprocity that the Yin and Yang symbol stands for. And it’s this idea of interconnectedness and reciprocity that appeals to the core beliefs of Korean Buddhism.

Buseoksa

The Yin and Yang symbol is located on the fan of San shin (The Mountain Spirit) at the famous Buseoksa Temple.

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