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Indian Yoni-Linga and Chinese Yin-Yang: conceptual comparisons.

   Dao gave birth to the One; the One gave birth successively to two
   things, three things, up to ten thousand things. These ten thousand
   things contain Yin and Yang, and through this blending of Qi (vital
   energies or powers) it reaches harmony.--Laozi, Dao De Jing

   The Purva Mimamsa tells us that scriptural statement (sriti)
   indicatory mark (linga) and syntactical connection (vakya) are of
   greater force than subject-matter (prakarana) and these three means
   of proof confirm the view that the fires are independent
   meditation.--Radhakrishna, The Brahma Sutra.

The Indian philosophy of Yoni-Linga may be examined as a parallel to the Chinese philosophy of "Yin-Yang." (1) But what are the similarities and distinctions between the two kinds of dichotomies? For the sake of the theoretical formulation, some conceptual, analytical and cross-cultural perspectives appropriate for reasoning and explaining "Yoni-Linga" and "Yin-Yang" should be reconstructed in order to establish a more complete examination. This paper will make semiological, aesthetical, ontological and theological comparisons between these two of the most famous pairs of conceptual antonyms.

I. Semiological and Aesthetical Comparisons

According to The Brahman Sutra, Linga or Lingam, a term from the Sanskrit, is the indicatory or inferential mark. "The Purva Mimamsa tells us that scriptural statement (sriti), indicatory mark (linga), and syntactical connection (vakya) are of greater force than subject-matter (prakarana), and these three means of proof confirm the view that the fires are independent meditation." (2) Linga means phallus and represents the half-unity of consciousness while Yoni is the female sexual organ. Linga is always combined with its counterpart, Yoni, which forms the base from which the Linga rises. Yoni-Linga is a sexual symbolizing unity for positive and negative polarity. Etymologically and semantically, Chinese Yin means: 1) the moon or cloudy 2) dark or shadow 3) female or pistillate 4) vagina or menses 5) cold or wet 6) death or hell 7) secret or invisible 8) silence or gloomy 9) north of mountains or south of rivers, 10) shady or inside. Yang means: 1) the sun or sunshine 2) light or bright 3) male or "masculine 4) phallus or semen 5) warm or dry 6) living or recovery 7) I or myself, 8) clear or melodious 9) eyes or visible 10) south of mountains or north of rivers 11) exposed to the sun or outside. Significantly, we may find that Yin-Yang really symbolizes natural and physical objects or phenomena rather than the spiritual ones.

Both Yoni-Linga and Yin-Yang, as the metaphors, are some "signs," "marks," "symbols," "characteristics," "models," or "patterns" of certain things or ideas. (3) Most particularly, they are also some "signs" of gender, sex or generative power. It is the same with Indian Yoni and Chinese Yin, which are "icons" of the female organs of generation. Indian Linga and Chinese Yang, as the phallic symbols or emblems, designate "phallic worship." (4) Like Yin and Yang, when associated with each other, Yoni (vulva/vagina) and Linga (phallus) become a typical symbol of the divine procreative energy. By emanating its all-producing energy to the four quarters of the universe, Linga is frequently stylized though and more austere rather than appearing in its literal form as a sex symbol in an erect position. Similar to other civilizations, through ring-stones and clay figures, Yoni-Linga displaying male and female sex organs, which have been found among the urban remains of the Indus Valley. When depicted alone Yoni is referred to as a chalice (argha) or water-vessel (jalahari), sometimes shaped like a conch-shell, or represented by a downward pointing triangle. Linga is depicted as rounded at top and bottom to show that it does not stand or arise from anywhere in our space or time; it may look egg-shaped, and recall the Cosmic Egg, which size is generally determined by the size of the temple housing it.

Generally speaking, Yoni-Linga has much more aesthetical significances and emphases than Yin-Yang. Yoni-Linga, colored in ochre with flowers of libations of holy water, has multiple statues, carvings, and pictures. The sacred sculptures of Sakti-Siva or Yoni-Linga can not only be found in temples all over India and Nepal, but also as abundant phallus ornaments (usually made of stone) in the streets, courtyards and houses. Every day, people bring offers of flowers, rice or fruit to these erect penises as sacred symbols of Siva in order to add merit to their prayers.

In Indian history, a large number of artistic works about Yoni-Linga have been created. We may find twelve great Lingams of Siva in India, which are on mountains or rocks, and also in temples. For example, there is the Kedaresa in the Himalaya, a huge and shapeless mass of rock. As R. Shridhar says, "The Linga artifacts, dating from the first century BC to the third century AD are shaped like realistic phalli. Thereafter the shape becomes progressively more abstract. By mediaeval times, its observable portion, rising from the yoni, forms a round block with domed apex." (5) For example, a number of polished stone Lingams, replicas of the erect phallus have been discovered, mostly small but ranging up to two feet in height, at Indus sites. A stone carving from Mathura around A.D. 150 shows two men wearing Kushan clothing worshiping a Lingam, the later omnipresent symbol of Siva. Siva-Linga is included among the abstract symbols of the deity, which is shaped like a post with a round top, made of clay or stone, varying from a few inches to several feet in height. One also finds statues or woodcarvings of the Goddess which are regularly touched, even kissed - certainly not merely by men but also by girls and other children. And last not least, there are even a few temples completely dedicated to Yoni, at one of which there is a yoni-shaped rock from which-once every year-rusty red water appears (by a freak of nature) so that people regard this as the place where Mother Earth is menstruating.

Relatively speaking, as a sign or symbol, Yoni-Linga is more artistic, concrete, solid, cubic, vivid, multi-colored, and three-dimensional. For example, Yoni-Linga shows the combined shape of the male-female sexual organ artistically, solidly and colorfully. Linga is an oval form, mostly made from stone, metal or gold. Yoni is a triangle with downward apex. On the contrary, Yin-Yang is more semiological, abstract, plane, black-white colored, and two-dimensional. For instance, one way to write the symbols for Yin and Yang are an open or broken line (Yin) and a whole or solid line (Yang) which could be divided into the four stages of Yin and Yang, further divided into the eight trigrams, and finally divided into hundreds, thousands, even innumerable diagrams. The symbol, entitled Taijitu (The Diagram of the Great Ultimate), is another way to show Yin and Yang: the mostly black or dark portion, being dim, is Yin, and the mostly white or light portion, being brighter, is Yang.

II. Ontological and Theological Comparisons

It is more significant then to examine Yoni-Linga and Yin-Yang in ways of the ontological and theological comparisons since we have studied them semiologically and aesthetically. Sakti-Siva mythology is an inexhaustible source of Indian philosophy about ontology, cosmology, morality, sexuality, human relations, and religious practices. (6) A male-female symbol representing the union of Sakti and Siva is in the form of their sacred genitals-Yoni and Linga. The Male-Female union in the form of "Siva-Linga or Yoni-Linga" consists of a feminine base (the vagina) and a rising masculine portion the phallus or penis), and explains fundamentals of existence through "positive and negative" aspects of nature and society. In a final analysis, "supernatural" Yoni-Linga worship is ultimately linked to the worship of nature.

According to The Book of Changes (I-Ching), the combination of Yin and Yang constitutes Dao (Tao), "Master (Confucius) says: "The trigrams Qian (Heaven) and Kun (Earth) may be regarded as the gate of changes. Qian represents what is of Yang; Kun what is of Yin. These two unite according to their qualities, and there comes the embodiment of the result by the strong and weak. In this way we have the phenomena of heaven and earth visibly exhibited, and can comprehend the operation of the spiritual intelligence." (7) For Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang belong to the category of "substance," and also of "attributes." Substantially, they are Qi or Chi (vital energy) which produces ten thousand things; attributively, they are the forms and characteristics of those things. As Wing-tsit Chan states:
   The YIN YANG doctrine is very simple but its influence has been
   extensive. No aspect of Chinese civilization-whether metaphysics,
   medicine, government, arthas escaped its imprint. In simple terms,
   the doctrine teaches that all things and events are products of two
   elements, forces, or principles: Yin, which is negative, passive,
   weak, and destructive, and Yang, which is positive, active, strong,
   and constructive. The theory is associated with that of the Five
   Agents (Wu-Xing, metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth) which may be
   taken as an elaboration of the Yin Yang idea but actually adds the
   important concept of rotation, i.e. that thins succeed one another
   as the Five Agents take their turns. (8)

Laozi says, "Dao gave birth to the One; the One gave birth successively to two things, three things, up to ten thousand things. These ten thousand things contain Yin and Yang, and through this blending of Qi (vital energies or powers) it reaches harmony." (9) For this great founder of Daoism, Yin and Yang, as two kinds of Qi and also as the attributes of Tian (Heaven) and Di (Earth), formalize ten thousand things. Yin-Yang associated with the Five Elements may be regarded as Chinese metaphysics and cosmology. The Chinese philosophers thought about universe as Qi, which is mean for interaction between universal powers of Yin and Yang. Zhuang Zi says:
   To be overjoyed is harmful to the yang element while to be
   exasperated is harmful to the yin element. When both yin and yang
   are in disorder, people will be unable to adopt themselves to the
   four seasons or to acclimatize themselves to hot and cold. As a
   result, they will suffer physically for it. (10)

Like Yin-Yang, Yoni-Linga is the positive and negative mode of transcendental power. But unlike Yoni-Linga, Yin-Yang always describe creative, dynamic or dialectical relationships, interactions and transformations. In Chinese cosmology, Yin is a negative or passive principle in nature which happens to be feminine, and yang is a positive or active principle in nature which happens to be masculine. Yin-Yang finally represents the Five Material Agents or Elements and all things such as Heaven and Earth, moon and sun, water and fire.

From Lu Shi Chun Qiu, we may read: "The Great One produces the two poles (Heaven and Earth), which in turn give rise to the energies of the dark (Yin) and the light (Yang). These two energies then transform themselves, one rising upwards, and the other descending downwards; they merge again and give rise to form." (11) As the fundamental power of the universe, the unification, combination, harmonization and interaction of two opposites-Yin and Yang produce all things for both procreation and production. For example, a single thing may at one moment show Yin characteristics and at another become a Yang thing aflame with energy, because its inner activity has transformed from one mode to another; still, there may be objects in which either the Yin and Yang remains a deeply dormant mode of being. Yin-Yang is more substantial, naturalistic and energetic. Yin-Yang signifies the dialectic and dynamic process of interactions or transformations as mutual arising, equally important and complementary opposites rather than absolutes, which describes the changes between the phases of a cycle such as rest and motion, dark and light, death and birth. According to The Brahman Sutra, prana-linga-sarana is one of the six stages signifying the acquisition of knowledge which leads to equality with Brahman. Siva is worshiped as Linga which is the unseen background of the universe. Anyone initiated in the pasupata-vrata wears not only bhasma but Linga. He who wears the Linga on his body will have no more rebirths. (12)

In the 13th century, there arose a Saiva sect, whose followers can be called Lingayats because they worship the Siva-Lingam. Interesting enough, a Lingayat always carries with him a small linga in a reliquary suspended in his neck. Yin-Yang is the central conception of Chinese Daoism and Neo-Confucianism. Similarly, Yoni-Linga is the central conception of Hindu Saivism. The main idea underlying the Siva-Linga in its most primitive aspect is undoubtedly phallic. In fact, the supreme emblem of the Siva-Linga as the father-god is the principal object of worship in Saiva shirines, but not the anthropomorphic forms of Siva; or in other words, the god symbolized by the Siva-Linga is meditated upon by the worshiper in his anthropomorphic form. The saiva has his preferences for the phallic form as an abstract representation of Siva as the Lord and would even go to the extent of worshiping other deities in a clay Linga. There is a regular daily schedule in temple worship of Siva-Linga which is followed as strictly as the schedule is followed in the worship of the family deity in the home. For example, the awakening ceremony is followed by the bathing ceremony of Linga an hour or so after sunrise in Siva shrines. For the religious practices of women, they worship Siva and the clay Siva-Linga daily if they choose, take their ceremonial bath, and give gifts and observe vows. (13) Surely Siva can be considered the source of the universe, and applied to describe the he with his Linga as Mahadeva--the Great God. However, unlike impersonalized Yang, Linga represents a kind of personalized supernatural being or cosmic creative power--the phallic symbol worshiped as representative of the god Siva. (14) As the Lord of "destruction," Siva is one of the Trimerti (Three-Gods- in-One) whose universal symbol is the Lingam. Siva is the Lord of the erect phallus urdhvalinga. Siva is also the only god whose creatures bear either his symbol-Linga or his wife's symbol-Yoni. One of Siva's many forms is Ardhanariswara, the god who is half-man-half-woman. As the divine image form, this Lingam is always set in a key hole shaped base representing Yoni-the female aspect of Siva's creative power, because "when the Goddess is invited to take her place, before the moment of worship, the yoni mudra is made, since the yoni, the female organ, is her pitha or yantra. The yoni can never be regarded by a Tantric adept otherwise than as an altar." (15)

In a sense, Siva himself can be called the Lingam at the heart of universal creation. As the Divine Yogin and the Eternal Creator, both of Siva's yoga powers and creative powers are associated with Lingam. According to the Hindu legends, Siva is involved in two stories with his most important symbol-Lingam. One is that he is said to be the great creator who cuts off his Lingam by deciding his creative powers are no longer needed; in the other, he is described as the creator of all living beings and the only god whose Lingam is worshiped by men. (16) For example, as the ideal Pasupata yogin, so-called Lakulisa is the incarnation of Siva in a corpse; although the body is dead, but the penis is alive and erect as the Lingam-the symbol of Siva and his power, which is not a sign of sexual excitement but of sexual restraint as the visible symbol of the tapas or energy stored up by the withholding of semen. As T. J. Hopkins says,
   Indus religious interests seem, in summary, to have revolved around
   the worship of male animals raised to sacred status, the parallel
   worship of a horned figure represented as Lord of (male) Creatures,
   worship of Lingam as the supreme symbol of male powers, and a
   conservative emphasis on order, restraint, and purification by
   bathing. Worship of the female power of fertility and fecundity may
   have constituted a subsidiary cult at the popular or domestic
   level." (17)

As a religious practice, Yoni Puja is the worship of the female sexual organ requiring absolute discipline after Nyasa-the ritual consecration of a woman's body, which is in self-control and not for sexual gratification. Similarly, Linga Puja is the worship of a man sexual organ after Nyasa.

According to Hindu philosophy, there are two kinds of self: the essential self (Atman) and the empirical self. So-called Moksa (the final liberation) is the combination of Brahman (the Ultimate Reality) and Atman. The Linga-sarira is the carrier of karma and assumes a body which, though different from the present one, is not altogether discontinuous with it. (18) The body to which the essential self is supposed to be attached as a result of the action of original ignorance is of three kinds: physical, subtle, and causal. Among them, the subtle body becomes equivalent to the vital, mental, and intellectual functions together. These functions are possible only because of the presence and direct awareness of the essential self and thus the subtle body serves as Linga-the indicatory mark of the presence of the self. (19) For the above reasons, both Yoni-Linga and Yin-Yang are signs or symbols of the gender (feminine/ masculine), the abstract creation and procreation, the unity of two opposites, the Ultimate Reality (or the Final Being, Supreme Powers or Primal Forces), and supernatural functions/relations, harmonization or balancing system, mystical and artistic objects. However, Yoni-Linga may be regarded as dissolution of ideality, subjectivity and spirituality, but Yin-Yang, as dissolution of materiality, objectivity and neutrality.

According to Book of Changes (I Ching), there are more Yin lines in the Yang trigrams, and there are more Yang lines in Yin trigrams, because Yang lines are odd (undivided or whole lines), and Yin lines are even (divided or broken lines). (20) We may find that Yin and Yang can be considered the dialectic and dynamic process of interactions or transformations as mutual arising, equally important and complementary opposites rather than absolutes, which describes the changes between the phases of a cycle. Yin and Yang can be rearranged or reorganized into a higher "whole" or a lower "parts," and even can be transformed into one another as some parts of their opposites. One power grows in another power overcoming it till the final transformation is done and then immediately there is the same motion in an opposite direction. This is an everlasting process, because there is eternal motion in the universe.

All things from natural beings or human being to the entire universe may be determined by the balance or lack of balance of Yin and Yang, and considered as its opposite when viewed from another perspective. The idea of everlasting transformation and interaction of two opposites can be viewed in figure image of Yin and Yang, as dark and light parts of the circle. The light part represents Yang and the dark part represents Yin. The little dark circle on the light side means that Yang gives birth to Yin and the little light circle on the dark side means that Yin gives birth to Yang. A decrease of Yang part leads to an increase of Yin part in the bottom of the big circle and the contrary, a decrease of Yin part leads to an increase of Yang part in top of the big circle. In a sense, Yin-Yang emphasizes the unity of non-self, (21) but Yoni-Linga pays attention on the unity of self (the lower and the higher) and Sacti-Siva.


We may find six similarities between Yoni-Linga and Yin-Yang: both of them are 1) the external, visible, mystical and artistic signs or symbols 2) the integration or the togetherness of original genital parts or gender functions as the points of revelation or enlightenment 3) two opposites as the purported existence 4) interdependent, intersupportive, interactive and intertwined 5) foundational and metaphysical forces and related to many parts of the universe 6) involved with creation and correspond indirectly with the Ultimate Reality/the Supernatural Being, the ultimate creative and reproductive power of the cosmological universe, or directly with physical energy in nature, which also signify or represent so-called final and intangible internality or spirituality.

We also may find eight differences between them: 1) Yin and Yang can be divided into their own subparts, but Yoni and Linga not 2) Yin and Yang can be parts of their opposites, but Yoni and Linga not 3) Yin and Yang can be transformed into one another, but Yoni and Linga not 4) Yin and Yang can be described or applied through the numerical divination and geomancy, but Yoni and Linga not 5) none of Yin and Yang can be considered absolutely dominate or more important, totally depending on their balance, harmony and proper proportion, but Yoni and Linga not 6) Yin and Yang can be represented as the sign of time, space, weather, directions, numbers, or medical treatments; but Yoni-Linga not 7) Yin and Yang can be considered the dialectic and dynamic process of interactions or transformations, but Yoni-Linga not 8)Yin and Yang is indicated the impersonalized Ultimate Reality/Supreme Being, but Yoni and Linga is based on the personalized Supernatural/Superhuman Being, and applied as a sign or symbol for the worship of Siva who is one of the Hindu Trimurty (Three Gods in One).

In conclusion, Yin-Yang and Yoni-Linga have been developed by later Sino-Hindu philosophies and theologies as human worldviews widened and deepened within Eastern civilization.


(1) According to Chinese language usage, we apply yin-yang, not yang-yin, but this word order has no specific philosophical meaning.

(2) S Radhakrishnan. The Brahma Sutra: the Philosophy of Spiritual Life. New York: Greenwood Press, 1960, III. 3.49; IV. 1.2. p. 496, p. 525.

(3) According to Nyaya philosophy, Linga is one of three parts of the inferential process. Linga may be a medium of a sign or a focal point from which something may be inferred; or which indicates a boundary or distinction between two or more objects; or as the Linga-vyapta (a term in logic) which represents the invariable mark denoting the connection between two phenomena, like fire and smoke, the latter being the sign (linga) of the presence of fire. Like Yin-Yang, Yoni-Linga can be used to express contrast and distinction. Cf. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, Seven Systems of Indian Philosophy. Himalayan Institute Press.1983. p. 82-83.

(4) For instance, the male sexual organs can be called "Yangju" in Chinese.

(5) R. Shridhar, "Shiva Lingam." The Times of India. 22nd September 2000.

(6) The epics and Puranas (Books of the Ancients) tell how a great flame-phallus appeared from the cosmic waters, and from this flame Linga, Siva emerged to claim supremacy and worship over Brahma and Vishnu, when he was castrated because he seduced sages' wives in the pine forests of the Himalays. Because no one could castrate the supreme god, he castrated himself. Thus, the fallen phallus of the supreme god destroyed all the worlds until it reached the yoni of his wife Uma, also called Parvati, and cooled down. All procreation of the worlds started after the worship of Yoni-Linga was restored and all the gods, including Vishnu and Brahma accepted the supremacy of Siva. Cf. R. Shridhar, "Shiva Lingam."

(7) Book of Changes, Changsha: Hunan Press, 1993, P.297, p.331.

(8) Wing-Tsit Chan, A Source Book of Chinese Philosophy. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1963, p. 244.

(9) Lao Zi, Dao De Jing (The Book of The Way and Its Powers). Changsha: Hunan People's Publishing House, 1992, p.98.

(10) Zhuang Zi , Book of Zhuang Zi. Changsha: Hunan People's Publishing House, 1999, p.153.

(11) Zhang Shuangdi, Ed. , Lu Shi Chun Qiu (Lu's Spring and Autumn Annals). Book 5, Chapter 2. Beijing: Zhonghuashuju Press, 2007.

(12) S. Radhakrishnan. The Brahma Sutra: the Philosophy of Spiritual Life, Allen & Unwin, 1960, p. 88.

(13) Kenneth W .Morgan, Ed. The Religion of The Hindus. New York: The Ronald Press Company, 14 1953, p.186-199.

(14) Accordingly, Linga can also be worshiped as impersonalized representative of the productive or generative power of nature; associated with Linga, Yoni is the phallic symbol used in the worship of the supreme female energy of nature.

(15) Heinrich Zimmer, Philosophies of India. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969, p. 583.

(16) Thomas J. Hopkins, The Hindu Religious Tradition. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1871, p. 88.

(17) Hopkins, The Hindu Religious Tradition, Wadsworth Publishing, 1971, p. 9.

(18) Radhakrishnan, S. Trans. Introduction of The Brahma Sutra: the Philosophy of Spiritual Life, Allen & Unwin, 1960, p.205.

(19) K. W. Morgan. The Religion of The Hindus, Motilal Banarsidass Pub, 1996, p. 117-125.

(20) Book of Changes, Changsha: Hunan Press, 1993, p. 323

(21) But for Chinese Qigong practice, we may find some emphases on interaction, transformation and harmonization between the inside (self, mind and internal organs) and outside of the body through Yin and Yang.
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Author:Ding, John Zijiang
Publication:Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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