There are those moments in life where what you are feeling transcends description. I have yet to discover an English word, which would capture the depth and essence of what I feel at these moments. It is in my attempts to describe those moments that I am reminded of how limited language can be. Sometimes I cease trying to find the perfect word, assuming that it either does not exist or when I am meant to know it, it will find it’s way to me. It was quite by accident, that I stumbled upon the Yugen while on stumbleupon. According to the site, Yūgen means “an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and mysterious for words.” As I read the definition of this word, a wave of peace, exhilaration, and recognition moved through my body, mind, and spirit. I recognized this feeling quite well. The last time I experienced this was when I was seeking the word to describe my purpose in life and found the word Antevasin while reading Eat, Pray, Love.
Trying to describe this concept seems allusive in some respects. According to Wikipedia.com, “The exact translation of the word depends on the context. In the Chinese philosophical texts the term was taken from, yūgen meant "dim", "deep" or "mysterious". While Yugen experiences may connect us with the Infinite, they are experiences of every day life which serve as a connection to something higher. Zeami Motokiyo offered a few examples of yūgen when he wrote, "To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill. To wander on in a huge forest without thought of return. To stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands. To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds. And, subtle shadows of bamboo on bamboo."
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy described yūgen as profound grace. “Kamo no Chōmei, the author of the well-known Hōjōki (An Account of my Hut, 1212), also wrote about poetry and considered yūgen to be a primary concern of the poetry of his time. He offers the following as a characterization of yūgen: “It is like an autumn evening under a colorless expanse of silent sky. Somehow, as if for some reason that we should be able to recall, tears well uncontrollably.” Another characterization helpfully mentions the importance of the imagination: “When looking at autumn mountains through mist, the view may be indistinct yet have great depth. Although few autumn leaves may be visible through the mist, the view is alluring. The limitless vista created in imagination far surpasses anything one can see more clearly” (Hume, 253–54).”
Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, in Zen and Japanese Culture wrote,
Yugen is a compound word, each part, yu and gen, meaning “cloudy impenetrability,” and the combination meaning “obscurity,” “unknowability,” “mystery,” “beyond intellectual calculability,” but not “utter darkness.” An object so designated is not subject to dialectical analysis or to a clear-cut definition. It is not at all presentable to our sense-intellect as this or that, but this does not mean that the object is altogether beyond the reach of human experience. In fact, it is experienced by us, and yet we cannot take it out into the broad daylight of objective publicity. It is something we feel within ourselves, and yet it is an object about which we can talk, it is an object of mutual communication only among those who have the feeling of it. It is hidden behind the clouds, but not entirely out of sight, for we feel its presence, its secret message being transmitted through the darkness however impenetrable to the intellect. The feeling is all in all. Cloudiness or obscurity or indefinability is indeed characteristic of the feeling. But it would be a great mistake if we took this cloudiness for something experientially valueless or devoid of significance to our daily life. We must remember that Reality or the source of all things is to the human understanding an unknown quantity, but that we can feel it in a most concrete way.
I may never be able to adequately explain yūgen when I experience it, however, I will always know it when I feel it and experience it and for now, that is enough.
Hume, N. G. (1995). Japanese aesthetics and culture: A reader. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press.
Suzuki, D. T. (1959). Zen and Japanese culture. New York: Pantheon Books.