Supplementary Entries and Texts for the
ENCYCLOPEDIA  OF  KOREAN  BUDDHISM
by the Venerable Hyewon and Professor David A. Mason
Deleted entire Entry:
Taegeuk  태극  太極                                 would have been on page 540
     Supreme Ultimate; symbol of universal dynamic oneness

A circular symbol with two equal-sized cashew-shaped or spiral-shaped parts dynamically
swirling after one-another, as representation of the eum-yang (陰陽, yin-yang
complementary balance) concept; see that entry. It is considered the official symbol of
Daoism (道教) but is frequently employed in artworks and philosophies of Korean
Buddhism, which over the centuries incorporated many Daoist ideas and motifs. It
originated in China where it is pronounced and written Taiji or T’ai-chi (literally meaning
“grand ridgepole”); however, Chinese ones are usually black and white and divided
vertically (with small circles of each color in the center of the maximum sector of the other)
while Korean ones are usually red and blue and divided horizontally (those carved into
stone have no colors). This Korean-style Taegeuk is at the center of the Taegeuk-gi
national flag of the Republic of Korea. It is often also rendered as a three-part symbol
in red, blue and yellow called a
Sam-taegeuk (三太極), in that case representing the
Cheon-Ji-In (天地人, Heaven, Earth and Humanity) trinity; see that entry.

The Taegeuk is a name for and symbol of the complementary and balanced character of
the whole of ultimate reality, including both the natural order of things and whatever
realms of being may be regarded as transcending that order. This concept was introduced
in the Juyeok-gyeong (周易經, Zhou I Ching, Classic Book of Changes at the root of all
Oriental philosophy) and the Daoist classics Dodeok-gyeong (道德經, Daode-jing Tao Te
Ching) and Jangja (莊子, Zhuangzi, Chuang-tzu), all from the Zhou (周, Chou, Ju in
Korean) Dynasty; it became fundamental to both Confucianism and daoism as they
institutionalized in the Han Dynasty (漢朝), and became a concept of Buddhism as it
developed its Oriental forms after being transmitted from India. The cosmology introduced
in those classics begins with Mugeuk (無極, Wuji, empty-utmost), a primordial state of non-
being, nothingness, boundlessness and infinite potentiality. As Wuji began to move
according to Do (道, Dao / Tao, The Way) it divides by eum (陰) and yang (陽) forces into
the Taegeuk, the dynamic One, which then by further Do-movement manifests into the
Ohaeng (五行, Wuxing, Five Elements), from or by which all the realms and things of the
universe are created.

The Taegeuk can also be seen as a symbol or mandala of attaining consciousness of
oneness or ultimate inter-connectedness and unity, as results from sammae (三昧,
samadhi, ultimate self-concentration) or other Buddhist practices. It is a primary symbol of
Neo-Confucianism, Buddhism’s chief ideological rival, but has long appeared in many
Korean Buddhist artworks, particularly in the dancheong (丹靑) multi-colored decorative
painting of temple halls. Examples can be found from well before Neo-Confucianism
became Korea’s official ideology at the end of the 14th century; the oldest one is carved
into a stone foundation of Gameun-saji (感恩寺址, Site of Gameun-sa Temple), which was
constructed in 682, and it also appears on the sides of two stone staircases on the site of
Hoeam-sa Temple (檜巖寺) built during the reign of Goryeo King Chungsuk (忠肅王, r.
1313-39). Taegeuks became ever more common in temple artworks of the Joseon (朝鮮)
period, and still flourish today.

The
Taegeuk symbol is closely related to the eum-yang concept; see that entry.

For more information & photos, see
my Sam-taegeuk page.