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Yin (Chinese Thought)

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Yin is the supposed “feminine” in ancient Chinese philosophy. The Chinese characters Yin and Yang originally referred to the dark and bright sides of a sunlit riverbank.

A distinct Yin-Yang school arose around 305-240 BCE, attributed to Tsou Yen. By the time of Confucius, the Tsou Yen school gained scholarly and philosophical recognition. Yin represented the Earth and, according to this schema, the associated elements of darkness, passivity, femininity, negativity and destruction.

By way of contrast, Yang came to be associated with Heaven and all the associated elements of light, activity, masculinity, positive forces and creativity.

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This statue of a yogini goddess was created in...

This statue of a yogini goddess was created in Kaveripakkam in Tamil Nadu, India, during the 10th century. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A yogini is a female practitioner of yoga. The term also refers to a female saint and teacher of spiritual knowledge.

Until fairly recently, the term yogini was generally reserved for women. Today, however, the word “yogi” can relate to men and women, especially in Western countries (just as the word “actor” now relates to both sexes, and “actress” is rarely used).

See the full entry for yogi for details.

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Yahweh is one of the names given to God in the Hebrew Torah and Christian Old Testament (OT).

The spelling of the Tetragrammaton and connect...

The spelling of the Tetragrammaton and connected forms in the Hebrew Masoretic text of the Bible; vowel points are shown in red. For further information, see article Q’re perpetuum and diagram Image:Qre-perpetuum.png . A resizable (zoomable) vector PDF version of this diagram is available on request. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wikipedia notes that

The name probably originated as an epithet of the god El, head of the Bronze Age Canaanite pantheon (“El who is present, who makes himself manifest”)†

Because of its unsurpassed holiness, from postexilic times pious Hebrews declined to pronounce the name in reading, and only the consonants YHWH were written. The vowels we see today were later added by religious scribes.

The precise meaning of the Hebrew name Yahwey is debated. Some say it builds on the Hebrew word haya meaning “be, become” or “cause to be.”

In a Masoretic Text a vowel is included, bringing the word closer to donay and suggesting the meaning “Lord.”

In the story of the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:14) God reveals himself to Moses, saying his name is “I Am who I Am.” And many other names and titles are used for God throughout the OT, such as “Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7:13), “Father” (Jerimiah 3:19) “Maker” (Isaiah 17:7) and “Lord of hosts” (Amos 4:13).

Before becoming a sacred name of God for Jews and Christians, scholars believe that

a god Yahweh may have been worshiped south of the Dead Sea at least three centuries before the emergence of Israel (the Kenite hypothesis).†

To me, it seems superficial to get hung up on what to call God, and far more important to try to figure out what God wants us to do.


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In Hinduism a yantra (Sanskrit = Mechanism, technology, instrument)  is a diagram for meditation depicting beliefs about the chakras, larger cosmic planes and the dynamic totality of all existence. The idea also creeps into Tantric Buddhism.

Yantras are also used in ritual worship, temple rites, astrology, body art/tats, and to enhance a seeker’s paranormal powers. Yantras are usually drawn, printed (as on note paper), painted or engraved on rock or metals.

Concerning paranormal powers, the yantra is upheld as a good luck charm, repelling evil spirits and avoiding disaster.

In architecture, an entire Hindu temple structure may mirror the form of a yantra, representing and emboding the sacred, otherworldly powers it was built for. Many Hindu temples are, indeed, based on archetechtural manuals advocating a yantra design.

Perhaps the essence of the yantra is found in Oscar Wilde’s notion that

Truth in art is the unity of a thing with itself: the outward rendered expressive of the inward; the soul made incarnate; the body instinct with spirit.”¹

#14 Sri Yantra Mandala SHANKAR by shankar gallery, Richard Lazzara, via Flickr

¹ Cited in Peter Fingesten, “Spirituality, Mysticism and Non-Objective Art,” Art Journal, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Autumn, 1961: 2-6), p. 2

Primary Sources and Further Reading:

  • The Encyclopedia of Religion. Eliade, Mircea (ed). New York: 1987, Collier Macmillan, Vol. 15.
  • Fischer-Schreiber, Ingrid. The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion : Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Zen. Boston : Shambhala, 1994, c1989.

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Yin-Yang (yin =umbral, yang = bright)

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This is the Chinese idea that all transformations arise from a dynamic interaction of two basic and complementary modes of existence.

The Yin-Yang cosmology harkens back to ancient Chinese philosophers (c. 500-200 BCE) who saw the world as an organic totality, where subject and object, self and other are essentially interrelated.

As John S. Major puts it:

The cosmos was “organic”; everything was related to and affected by everything else, without regard for mathematically or mechanically demonstrable cause and effect. No distinction was drawn between physical and mental phenomena, or between the “human” and “natural” worlds.¹

The Chinese characters Yin and Yang originally referred to the dark and bright sides of a sunlit riverbank.

A definite Yin-Yang school of philosophy arose around 305-240 BCE, attributed to Tsou Yen. By the time of Confucius, the Tsou Yen school had acquired scholarly and philosophical significance. Yin represented the Earth and, according to this schema, the associated elements of darkness, passivity, femininity, negativity and destruction.

Yang came to be associated with Heaven and all the associated elements of light, activity, masculinity, positive forces and creativity.

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Kevin at adds:

I think the feminine and passivity were actually Confucian additions. Confucius was pretty much a misogynist.

A core quality of Yin in the bright and shadow / strong and subtle paradigm, was of manifestation.

A very good example of this is procreation – the man fertilises (Inspiration / Yang) but the woman manifests the life in growing the embryo. Seen like this Yin is very powerful and not at all passive. (Though of course it can be passive at times).

Similarly all the running about working and commuting or whatever that many of us do in the modern world is actually manifestation and is Yin energy activity, not Yang as many suppose.

I am not sure equating the quality ‘destruction’ to Yin entirely does the quality justice. Yin manifests and un-manifests by withholding nurture. So a harsh frosty spell cutting back the verdant growth is very Yin.

Destruction is much more a Yang principle. The lightening which the ancient Chinese believed shook into being the new was a ‘positive Yang Force whereas over done it becomes the lightening which strikes down the tree.

Both Yin and Yang therefore have positive and negative valences which are not to be confused with good and bad. That hard frost which clears the ground makes way for new growth too.

Similarly Yin is not the negative of Yang (another bit of spin implied by Confucians) – The two exist in creative harmony.

Studying the Dazhuan (The Great Treatise approx. 3rd Century BCE) clarifies a lot of this as does studying the First two hexagrams of the Yijing which are the two exponents of these principles.

The Yijing predates Ying Yang theory… indeed the Ying Yang principle probably grew out of it and in turn replaced the shadow / light names within it. This is certain when one realises that all of the hexagrams are in pairs (in the King Wen sequence which is the one commonly used). Thus hexagrams 1 and 2 are a pair as is 3 and 4 etc. It only takes cursory study to see that these are in fact Yang / Yin pairs. Pairs of inspiration and manifestation. The King Wen sequence is between 1600 and 1200 BCE depending on which historian you subscribe to.²

Apart from the ongoing scholarly debates, perhaps most important from a contemporary perspective is the idea of dynamic complementarity. The two complementaries of Yin and Yang are said to be in a constant interplay and all phenomena arise through their interaction.

One interesting aspect of this process occurs when one modality eventually flows into its apparent ‘opposite,’ which in the field of psychology C. G. Jung called enantiodromia.

The Yin-Yang idea has become a part of pop culture. Almost everyone knows its basic message. This is, perhaps, because the Yin – Yang cosmology underscores the unity of mankind and nature, as well as the importance of transformation. In fact, for the ancient Chinese the idea of change was key, as we find with the oracle of the I Ching (Book of Change), from which Yin-Yang theory likely developed.

¹ John S. Major in The Encyclopedia of Religion. Eliade, Mircea (ed). New York: 1987, Collier Macmillan, Vol. 15, p. 515.

² See full comment »

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Yoda’s tear (Photo: Niall Kennedy via Flickr)

Yoda is a wise spiritual teacher of Luke Skywalker and other Jedi knights in the Star Wars films of George Lucas.

As the Grand Master of the Jedi Order, his power extends to being able to mediate and control “The Force,” which in the greater Star Wars cosmology is a spiritual life force pervading the universe.

Yoda’s species and last name remain unknown, although Lucas originally planned to call him Yoda Minch.

Yoda essentially is an American fictional variant of the Indian guru and, to some extent, the Siberian shaman. Links to these actual religious beliefs and practices shouldn’t be surprising, considering Lucas was friends and consulted with the renowned scholar of religion and mythology, Joseph Campbell.

Master Yoda

Master Yoda (Photo: Alex Abian via Flickr)

The fact that the Yoda character has become enshrined in popular culture can hardly be disputed. People even makes jokes about others being “like Yoda” if they’re wise and, perhaps, a bit eccentric.

This attests to the genius of American culture, in particular that of Hollywood. Unlike people in countries clinging to a glorious national past, mythological and otherwise, Americans are creating meaningful myth and culture today.

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Depending on which scholar you’re talking to, the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root yujir (yoke, bind together or union) or yuj samādhau (concentration).

Hatha yoga is a precisely defined set of bodily postures, along with breathing and mental exercises designed by Patanjali.  Taken together, these are said to ultimately connect the ego and soul with God.

Although hatha yoga is fashionable in the West, there are other important Hindu yogas. And the entire idea of yoga runs far deeper than stretch suits and inflatable balls.

For the traditional Hindu, yoga means any technique or practice that links individual will to the Divine Will.

The Bhagavad-Gita, one of the most revered books in Hinduism,  outlines four different but related types of yoga.

  1. Jnana yoga is the yoga of divine knowledge
  2. Raja yoga is the yoga of right rule
  3. Karma yoga is the yoga of sacred duty or action (this relates to another important Hindu concept, dharma)
  4. Bhakti yoga is the yoga of pure devotion to God

Depending on where a seeker is in his or her spiritual journey, these four different yogas can intermingle in different degrees and combinations.

For example, a hard working businesswoman (karma yoga) does puja in the morning (bhakti yoga). On returning home after work she meditates on spiritual lessons learned from the day’s activities (jnana yoga). At night she participates in a women rights group to help eradicate sutee (raja yoga). In addition, she may practice the bodily and contemplative postures of hatha yoga to ease her stress.

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Another aspect of yoga relates to Tantricism and is both championed or possibly denounced among the Hindu faithful. This type of yoga is called kundalini yoga.

Kundalini yoga involves awakening the spiritual “serpent power” said to reside in the base chakra. Through intense and prolonged training with a spiritual master (guru), the seeker learns how to channel this power up along the spinal column so it resonates within each of the seven chakras. Some stress the importance of moving beyond the lower chakras, but most advocate achieving balance among all of them.

Believers in this mythological system of the body say the most noble chakra is located at the top of the head (crown chakra). When this chakra activates and is properly balanced with all the other chakras, one is said to be in a state of samadhi—that is, complete and perfect union with God.

It’s worth nothing that different schools say different things about the chakras. The main point of difference seems to be the precise number and location of the chakras. So modern people grasping onto some simplified chakra theory as if it were the gospel truth might do well to brush up on the history of religions. Otherwise, a given chakra theory might become just another New Age dogma, influencing a person’s thinking just as forcefully as any other kind of religious teaching.

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