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Yuan (simplified Chinese: 缘; traditional Chinese: 緣) or Yuanfen (simplified Chinese: 缘分; traditional Chinese: 緣分; pinyin: yuánfèn; Vietnamese: duyên phận) is a Buddhist-related Chinese concept that means the predetermined principle that dictates a person's relationships and encounters such as the affinity among friends or lovers. In common usage the term can be defined as the "binding force" that links two persons together in any relationship. The concept of synchronicity from the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung can be seen as similar to yuánfèn, which Chinese people also believe to be a universal force governing the happening of things to some people at some places. Yuánfèn belongs to the family of concepts known in theology as determinism.
Some believe that the driving forces and causes behind yuánfèn are the actions done in the previous rebirths. Therefore, it can be understood as the relational- as opposed to the physical- aspect of karma in Buddhism. However, while karma often refers to the consequences of an individual's actions on him- or herself, yuán is always used in conjunction with two persons.
The proverb yǒu yuán wú fèn (有緣無份), "Have fate without destiny," is sometimes used to describe couples who meet, but who do not for whatever reason stay together.
Unlike other Chinese social relations, which describe abstract, but easily noticeable, connections between people, nowadays, the Chinese almost never use this word in a serious business or legal situation.
- The proverbial saying "Have fate without destiny" refers to couples who were fated to come together, but not destined to stay together, and as such is sometimes used as a break-up line.
- Upon meeting a person (of either gender) who is hard to find, one might aptly exclaim: "It is yuánfèn that has brought us together!"
- When one encounters another repeatedly in various locations such that it seems to be more than coincidence, one can refer to yuánfèn.
- As a counter-example, when two people know each other, e.g. as penpals, but never have the opportunity to meet face-to-face, it can be said that their yuánfèn is too superficial or thin.
The proverb: 百世修来同船渡，千载修得共枕眠 (pinyin: bǎi shì xiū lái tóng chuán dù, qiān zǎi xiū dé gòng zhěn mián)
- Literally: It takes hundreds of rebirths to bring two persons to ride in the same boat; it takes a thousand eons to bring two persons to share the same pillow. This goes to show just how precious yuánfèn is.
- An alternative of this proverb is: 十年修得同船渡，百年修得共枕眠 (pinyin: shí nián xiū dé tóng chuán dù, bǎi nián xiū dé gòng zhěn mián),which means literally: ten years of meditation (or good deeds) bring two people to cross a river in the same ferry, and a hundred years of meditation (or good deeds) bring two people to rest their heads on the same pillow. It conveys the same message.
- It is important to note that although yuanfen is often used in the context of lovers' relationships, the concept itself is much broader and can refer to any relationship between people under any circumstance. For example, yuanfen can be thought of as the mechanism by which family members have been "placed" in each other's lives. On the other hand, even two strangers sitting next to each other on a short-haul plane ride are also thought to have a certain amount of yuanfen. The line of reasoning follows roughly as such: out of the six billion or so people living on this planet, the odds of two specific persons riding in an airplane together are astronomically small. Thus, two specific persons riding together on a plane have beaten out all odds to end up in those specific seats. If, in addition to their chance encounter, they happen to strike up an engaging conversation and find that they have common interests—perhaps in cinema, music, and/or photography—it makes their meeting all the more precious, and the depth of their yuanfen all the more noteworthy.
"The Chances of Affinity" could be a closer term to describing yuánfèn since yuánfèn really depends on the probability or a number of chances of meeting (or seeing) someone in the real world at any given time and space/place, however, although in reality haven't yet known each other for very long time, both persons felt as if they have already known each other for a very long time.
The concept of "synchronicity" from the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung is the closest English translation of Yuanfen. The French writer Émile Deschamps claims in his memoirs that in 1805, he was treated to some plum pudding by a stranger named Monsieur de Fontgibu. Ten years later, the writer encountered plum pudding on the menu of a Paris restaurant and wanted to order some, but the waiter told him that the last dish had already been served to another customer, who turned out to be de Fontgibu. Many years later, in 1832, Deschamps was at a dinner and once again ordered plum pudding. He recalled the earlier incident and told his friends that only de Fontgibu was missing to make the setting complete—and in the same instant, the now senile de Fontgibu entered the room.
Often yuánfèn is said to be the equivalent of "fate" (as is with the title of a 1984 movie, given the western name Behind the Yellow Line, starring Leslie Cheung) or "destiny". However, these words do not have the element of the past playing a role in deciding the outcome of the uncertain future. The most common Chinese term for "fate" or "destiny" is mìngyùn (命運), literally "the turn of events in life".
"Providence" and "predestination" are also not exact translations, because these words imply that the things happen by the will of God or gods, whereas yuánfèn does not necessarily involve divine intervention.