Yin and Yang, and the Hindu Connection
India and China are the world's oldest, and continuing civilizations. At one time, both countries accounted for nearly two-thirds of the world economy. They are again on the rise and may likely play a significant role on the world stage in the near future. India is already the world's third largest economy and continuing to grow, while China is the second largest, and by some accounts already the largest.
According to estimates, both countries may overtake the USA in the next decade as the world's largest economies. In the ancient world, China excelled in physical crafts and down to earth philosophies, while India excelled in matters of heart, and soul. There was a continuous flow of information between the two, and both shared some common history, religious ideas, beliefs, and practices.
Since the earliest times, many ideas and practices from India found their way into China. Prominent among them were Buddhism, the Indian martial art Kalaripayattu which formed the basis of Kung fu or Gung fu, and the Indian meditative practice of Dhyana, which formed the basis of Zen or Chan. There were trade relations between India and China for long both by the land and sea. Tibet, Burma, Thailand and Fareast were the connecting links between the two. Even today, they represent their composite culture. Buddhist monks travelled from China to India to study in the Indian monasteries and educational institutions, and collect Buddhist texts, while Indian teachers like Bodhi Dharma went to China to propagate Buddhism.
While most of what we have discussed so far is in public consciousness and known to many, it appears that the scholars seem to have either missed or ignored the possible Indian origins of the Yin and Yang, which is an important concept in Chinese philosophy about the two fundamental polarities that exist in creation as the positive and negative, or the male and female principles. Wikipedia quotes from the Chinese English dictionary the following definition of Yin and Yang.
1. Yin 陰 or 阴 Noun 1. [philosophy] negative/passive/female principle in nature, 2. Surname; Bound morpheme 1. the moon. 2. shaded orientation, 3. covert; concealed; hidden, 4. vagina 5. penis. 6. of the netherworld, 7. negative, 8. north side of a hil, 9. south bank of a river, 10. reverse side of a stele, 11.in intaglio; Stative verb: 1 overcast, 2. sinister; treacherous.
2. Yang 陽 or 阳 Bound morpheme: 1. [Chinese philosophy] positive/active/male principle in nature, 2. the sun, 3. male genitals, 4. in relief , 5. open; overt, 6. belonging to this world, 7. [linguistics] masculine, 8. south side of a hill, 9. north bank of a river.
A number of explanations are given about their possible origin. Some even traced it to Burma and Tibet. However, it looks like many missed the possible connection between the linga and yoni symbolism of Hinduism and the Yin and Yang principles of the Chinese culture. It appears that most likely, the Yin and Yang concepts are of Indian origin and the words were derived from the Sanskrit words, Yoni and Linga respectively.
Their respective meanings are also very similar. The Linga and Yoni motifs are at least 6000 years old in India. They have a prominent place in Hinduism and Hindu Tantra. Their meaning is as stated below.
1. The Linga representes the male principle, Purusha, the male sexual organ, Shiva, consciousness, and the source of creation.
2. The Yoni represents the female principle, Nature or Prakriti, Shakti or the universal energy, female reproductive organ, universal womb, Universal Mother, Mother Godess, and Parvati.
Together they represent the totality of the whole creation, and the union of the opposities and dualities. In Hinduism, we understand them as Shiva and Shakti, Shivalinga, and Ardhanariswara (halfmale and half female). They represent the coming together of the fundamental polarities that are present in existence, as the soul and the body, consciousness and matter, male and female, postive and negative, and light and darkness. Since ancient times, they have been the most popular symbols of Hinduism and an integral part of Hindu temple art, iconography, spirituality, and ritual worship.
Considering their relative popularity in both countries, the antiquity and popularity of Shivalinga, and the ancient connection and cultural exchanges between India and China, we have a strong reason to believe that the Chinese Yang seems to be a corrupt form of the Indian word Ling or Linga, and the Yin, is a corrupt version of the Indian word Yoni, the female reproductive organ and a symbol of Shakti.
There are many similarities between Hindu and Buddhist Tantras. In fact, many practices of Mahayana Buddhism and Buddhist Tantra are derived from Hinduism only. Both traditions have many identical themes, practices, concepts and names of deities. Therefore, it is very likely that the concept of linga and yoni found its way into China as Yin and Yang in the early part of their civilization, or alternatively the Chinese scholars adapted or incorporated the meaning of their Sanskrit counterparts during the spread of Buddhist tantra in Tibet and China.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- The Meaning And Significance Of Swastika In Hinduism
- Hinduism - The Role of Shakti in Creation
- Lessons from the Dance of Kali, the Mother Nature
- Hinduism and Buddhism
- Chinese Buddhism
- Mahayana Buddhism
- Schools of Buddhism
- A History of Chinese Buddhism
- A Record of Fa-hien's Travels to India and Ceylon - Part 1
- Siva and Bhavani
- Saivism or Shaivism - Basic Concepts