Article – Duality

“Creation is ruled by the law of duality. For every up there is a down; for every plus there is a minus. Every pleasure is balanced by an equal displeasure; every joy, by an equal sorrow.”
—Paramhansa Yogananda, Hindu monk and guru

“In the Primal Beginning, yin and yang divide, and their interaction produces limited but identifiable shapes and forms.”
—The Book of Lieh-Tzu, Taoist text

God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.”
—The Hebrew Bible (Genesis 1:16), Jewish text

​​The concept of duality, or the idea of contrasting or complementary forces or principles, appears in various religions and belief systems around the world. Some religions emphasize the need to transcend or reconcile dualistic concepts and realize the underlying unity or interconnectedness of all things, while others may see duality as an inherent aspect of the universe that needs to be balanced or harmonized.

In Hinduism, the concept of duality is often represented by the contrast between Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha represents the eternal, unchanging, and transcendent self, while Prakriti represents the changing, material, and manifest world. The interplay between Purusha and Prakriti is believed to give rise to the diversity and complexity of the universe.Hindu philosophy teaches that the world is an illusion (“Maya”), and the true nature of reality is beyond the duality of good and evil, light and darkness, and pleasure and pain. The goal of spiritual practice in Hinduism is to transcend this duality and realize the underlying unity of all existence.

In Taoism, the concept of duality is represented by Yin and Yang, which are complementary and opposing forces that are believed to shape the universe. Yin represents the feminine, passive, dark, and cold aspects, while Yang represents the masculine, active, bright, and warm aspects. These two forces are believed to be complementary and interdependent, and they are seen as fundamental to the balance and harmony of the universe.The interplay of Yin and Yang is believed to give rise to all phenomena in the universe, and the goal of Taoist practice is to harmonize and balance these opposing forces.

In Buddhism, the concept of duality is often explored through the concept of “samsara” and “nirvana.” Samsara represents the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and is associated with suffering and impermanence. Nirvana, on the other hand, represents the state of liberation from the cycle of suffering and the attainment of enlightenment. The contrast between samsara and nirvana is often seen as a central theme in Buddhist philosophy.

In Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion, the concept of duality is represented by the struggle between the forces of good and evil, manifested as two major gods. Ahura Mazda, the supreme god, represents good, while Angra Mainyu, the evil spirit, represents evil. Zoroastrianism teaches that human beings are caught in the struggle between these opposing forces and must choose to align themselves with the forces of good in order to achieve salvation.

Native American religions:
In some Native American traditions, there may be a belief in contrasting forces such as light and darkness, summer and winter, or the sky and the earth, which are seen as complementary and necessary for balance and harmony in the world. There is also a well-known Cherokee story in which an elder tells his grandson that within each person are two wolves–one good, one bad–in constant struggle with each other and that it is the one which you feed that wins.

In popular culture, many of our most cherished books, movies, and stories are essentially stories of the dualistic struggle between good and evil. Morality is often presented in visually dualistic ways–light versus dark, the angel and devil on one’s shoulder, and so on.

See All Commonalities Across Religions

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