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What is Samkhya and what is its relationship to yoga?

Samkhya is one of the six classical Indian schools of philosophy, and the oldest formulation of the ideas of even older revealed texts, like the Upanishads and the Vedas. Yoga, tantra and Ayurveda are all rooted in Samkhya philosophy, and its concepts are essential in understanding the context for study and practice.     Since the self in Samkhya-yoga metaphysics is devoid of any attributes that could individualize it, no difference can be made between one pursusha and another, therefore their plurality is problematic.

The self is without attributes or qualities, without parts, imperishable, motionless, absolutely inactive and impassive, unaffected by pleasure or pain or any other emotion.   All change, all character belong to prakriti. There does not seem to be any basis for the attribution of distinctiveness to purushas. If each pursusha has the same features of consciousness, all-pervadingness, if there is not the slightest difference between one purusha and another, since they are free from all variety, then there is nothing to lead us   to assume a plurality of purushas. Multiplicity without distinction is said to be impossible.

As a result of the opposed nature of purusha and prakyti, the Samkhya-Yoga metaphysics encounters problems in establishing harmony between empirical and absolute knowledge.

When the Samkhya breaks up the concrete unity of experience into the two elements of subject and object and makes them fictitiously absolute, it cannot account for the fact of experience. When purusha is viewed as pure consciousness, the permanent light which illuminates all objects of knowledge and prakriti as something opposed to consciousness and utterly foreign to it, the latter can never become the object of the former.   The Samkhya cannot get across the ditch which it has dug between the subject and the object.   Unless the subject and object are akin to each other, how can the one reflect the other?   How can buddhi, which is non-intelligent, reflect purusha?   How can the formless purusha which is the constant seer be reflected in buddhi which is changing?   The two cannot, therefore, be absolutely opposed in nature.

No possible relationship can exist between empirical knowledge, which belongs to the domain of prakriti, and the absolute knowledge of purusha. Because they belong to different realms, on the one hand purusha cannot know prakritii and on the other hand, prakriti and all its forms cannot do anything to help liberation.


An attempt to solve this difficulty was made by postulating the fact that prakriti operates instinctively for purusha’s liberation. The Samkhya-Sutra states that “creation works for the sake of purusha, so that it may attain supreme knowledge.” The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali also mentions that prakriti exists only for the sake of serving purusha’s liberation. But in the absence of an external agent who could “inspire” a teleological instinct to prakriti, the difficulty is not solved. Samkhya rejects the existence of a creator god, and Ishvara of the Yoga darshana is not a personal god, but rather a macro-purusha that was never involved with psycho-mental activity or the law of karma, being devoid of any creative abilities.

The teleological instinct of prakriti was illustrated in the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas by the image of a horse that pulls a wagon out of instinct, an act to which the wagon driver is a simple spectator. In the same way, prakriti would conduct purusha toward liberation without any external directive. However, it is omitted in this metaphor that the horse was first trained by the driver before he knew the way home. Samkhya metaphysics does not allow such an external “coach” for prakriti. Another deficient illustration used by the Samkhya followers is that of a blind man and a lame man helping each other on their journey. Neither can this be a valid illustration to symbolize the teleological instinct of prakriti, since both the blind man and the lame man possess intelligence and language, and therefore can cooperate in realizing a common purpose. Such cooperation between purusha and prakriti cannot exist, because they have nothing in common. Therefore, the difficulty generated by the impossible relationship between purusha and the psycho-mental abilities cannot be properly solved. How could intellect help to distance purusha from prakriti, if intellect itself is a category of prakriti?


Personhood is considered to be a product of prakriti’s manifestation, a sum of psycho-mental experiences that cease to exist at the moment of liberation. Instead of the pantheist view of liberation, consisting of an impersonal merging of the self with the Absolute, the Samkhya and Yoga darshanas state that the liberated self remains eternally isolated, devoid of any relation with other purushas and having as the only possibility that of knowing itself. But given the fact that purusha is devoid of any personal attributes, it is hard to grasp what this self-contemplation could mean. As in pantheism, liberation is out of personhood, it does not mean becoming a free person.


The Vedas are expressed in a symbolic language of Mantra, expressing the direct spiritual experiences of the sages. The later Upanishads are profound poems, an outpouring of spiritual revelation, illumination and knowledge where philosophy, religion and poetic expression are one. These revelations are not a dry intellectual enquiry. They are the light of India’s spiritual discoveries. Later, six evolved philosophies came into being, derived from the Vedas and Upanishads, the first of these being the Samkhya philosophy taught by the sage Kapila. In fact, all later philosophies of India were influenced by it. Philosophy at this time was not a purely intellectual pursuit. It was oriented towards the spiritual life and the practice of Yoga. Samkhya and Yoga represent the two wings of knowledge and practice that together give flight to the bird of spiritual experience. Sam means truth and khya means to realize, so truth realization is the goal of Samkhya. Samkhya also means number and it enumerates the 25 cosmic principles that make up the universe. Samkhya guides the seeker towards truth and Yoga gives the practical means to realize and experience ultimate truth. According to Samkhya, belief alone is not sufficient. If truth is knowable, then a means must be available. The universe that we perceive with the senses is only the surface beneath which the subtle cause remains hidden. The subtle cause can only be seen by the insight attained through meditation. So Yoga teaches us how to meditate and gives us the tool to enquire. The 25 cosmic principles enumerated by Samkhya consist of Prakriti, cosmic existence which has 24 principles and Purusha, pure consciousness, making 25. The Seen is Prakriti and the Seer is Purusha. Yoga practice moves us from identification with the Seen to our true identity with the Seer, a state of infinite peace, bliss and freedom. The 24 principles of nature are 1) Purusha; 2) Prakriti; 3) Mahat – cosmic mind; 4) ahamkara – ego; 6-10) five tanmatras –subtle sound, touch, sight, taste and hearing: 11-15) Five sense organs – ear, skin, eye, nose, tongue; 16-20) Five organs of action – mouth, hands, feet, sexual organ, anus; 21-25) five great elements – ether, air, fire, water, earth. This Samkhya system is adopted completely by Yoga, to which it adds ashtanga yoga as its practical method of truth realization. Prakriti consists of three gunas or energy states and all the 24 principles are combinations of these. The three gunas are the factors of bondage. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, the qualities born of material nature, bind fast in the body, O Arjuna.  The mind is satva, the life-force rajas and the body tamas. But rajas (distraction and desire) and tamas (inertia and ignorance) enter into the mind. Yoga removes the rajas and tamas from the mind so restoring the natural state of satva. A satvic mind can discern the truth, reflect and then realise the Purusha, pure spirit. The Yoga Sutra gives three steps to attain the goal of truth-realization: Kriya Yoga (ritual and devotion), Ashtanga Yoga (Yoga practice), and Samyama (focused awareness in meditation). Meditation takes us through 4 stages corresponding to the 24 principles of Nature moving from the gross to the subtle. We begin with our senses and end with unmanifest Nature. Having known the whole of creation, the last step is the realization of the independent, transcendent nature of Purusha. This is called viveka – khyati, knowledge of the difference between Nature and Spirit. So, Samkhya provides the guiding knowledge, Yoga the tool, Samyama.

Kathy Kiefer



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What Is Wing Chun?   How do you do it?   Why is it not well known?

Wing Chun (sometimes known as “eternal springtime”); is a concept-based Chinese martial art and form of self-defense utilizing both striking and grappling while specializing close-range combat.

The earliest known mentions of Wing Chun date to the period of Red Boat Opera. The common legend involves a young woman Yim Wing-chun during the period after the destruction by the Qing government of the Southern Shaolin and its associated temples.

Having rebuffed the local warlord’s marriage offer, Yim Wing-Chun said she’d reconsider the proposal if he could beat her in a fight. She soon crossed paths with a Buddhist nun named Ng Mui, and asked the nun to teach her to fight. According to legend Ng Mui taught Yim Wing-Chun a new system of martial art that had been inspired by the nun’s observations of a confrontation between a Snake and a Crane. This then-still nameless style enabled Yim Wing-Chun to beat the warlord in a one-on-one fight. Yim Wing-Chun thereafter married Leung Bac-Chou and taught him the style, which was later named after her.   It is believed that because the system was developed during the Shaolin and Ming resistance to the Qing Dynasty, many legends, including the story of Yim Wing-Chun, were spread regarding the creation of Wing Chun in order to confuse enemies. This is often given as a reason to explain the difficulty in accurately determining the creator or creators of Wing Chun.

Balance, structure and stance – Some Wing Chun practitioners believe that the person with better body structure will win. A correct Wing Chun stance is like a piece of bamboo, firm but flexible, rooted but yielding. This structure is used to either deflect external forces or redirect them.

Balance is related to structure because a well-balanced body recovers more quickly from stalled attacks and structure is maintained. Wing Chun trains the awareness of one’s own body movement derived from muscular, tendon, and articular sources. Performing Wing Chun’s forms such as Chum Kiu or the Wooden Dummy form greatly improve proprioception. Wing Chun favors a high, narrow stance with the elbows kept close to the body. Within the stance, arms are positioned across the vitals of the centerline. Shifting or turning within a stance is carried out valiantly on the heels, balls, or middle of the foot depending on lineage. All attacks and counter-attacks are initiated from this firm, stable base. Wing Chun rarely compromises structure for more powerful attacks because this is believed to create defensive openings which may be exploited.

Structure is viewed as important, not only for reasons of defense, but also for attack. When the practitioner is effectively “rooted”, or aligned so as to be braced against the ground, the force of the hit is believed to be far more devastating. Additionally, the practice of “settling” one’s opponent to brace them more effectively against the ground aids in delivering as much force as possible to them.

Relaxation – Softness and performing techniques in a relaxed manner, is fundamental to Wing Chun.   (a) Tension reduces punching speed and power. Muscles act in pairs in opposition to each other (e.g. biceps and triceps). If the arm is tensed, maximum punching speed cannot be achieved as the biceps will be opposing the extension of the arm. In Wing Chun, the arm should be relaxed before beginning the punching motion; (b) Unnecessary muscle tension wastes energy and causes fatigue; (c) Tense, stiff arms are less fluid and sensitive during trapping and chi sao; (d) A tense, stiff limb provides an easy handle for an opponent to push or pull with, whereas a relaxed limb provides an opponent less to work with; (e) A relaxed, but focused, limb affords the ability to feel “holes” or weaknesses in the opponent’s structure. With the correct forwarding these “holes” grant a path into attacking the opponent; and (f) Muscular struggle reduces a fight to who is stronger. Minimum brute strength in all movement becomes an equalizer in uneven strength confrontations. This is very much in the spirit of the tale of Ng Mui.

Centerline – While the existence of a “central axis” concept is unified in Wing Chun, the interpretation of the centerline concept itself is not. Many variations exist, with some lineages defining anywhere from a single “centerline” to multiple lines of interaction and definition. Traditionally the centerline is considered to be the vertical axis from the top of a human’s head to the groin. The human body’s prime striking targets are considered to be on or near this line, including eyes, nose, throat, solar plexus, stomach, pelvis and groin.

Wing Chun techniques are generally “closed”, with the limbs drawn in to protect the central area and also to maintain balance. In most circumstances, the hands do not move beyond the vertical circle that is described by swinging the arms in front, with the hands crossed at the wrists. To reach outside this area, footwork is used. A large emphasis and time investment in training Chi Sao exercise emphasizes positioning to dominate this centerline. The stance and guard all point at or through the center to concentrate physical and mental intent of the entire body to the one target.

Wing Chun practitioners attack within this central area to transmit force more effectively, since it targets the “core center” (or “mother line”, another center defined in some lineages and referring to the vertical axis of the human body where the center of gravity lies). For example, striking an opponent’s shoulder will twist the body, dispelling some of the force and weakening the strike, as well as compromising the striker’s position. Striking closer to the center transmits more force directly into the body.

Punches – Due to the emphasis on the center line, the straight punch is the most common strike in Wing Chun. The punch is the most basic and fundamental in Wing Chun and is usually thrown with the elbow down and in front of the body. Depending on the lineage, the fist is held anywhere from vertical to horizontal (palm side up). The contact points also vary from the top two knuckles, to the middle two knuckles, to the bottom three knuckles. In some lineages of Wing Chun, the fist is swiveled at the wrist on point of impact so that the bottom three knuckles are thrust forward adding power to the punch while it is at maximum extension.   The punches may be thrown in quick succession in a “straight blast” or “chain punching”. When executed correctly, it can be used as a disorienting finisher.

When executing the punch, you must relax and use your shoulders. The punch comes from the body and not the arm. Like most other punches in martial arts, Wing Chun punches with the body.

Wing Chun favors the vertical punch for several reasons: (1) Directness. The punch is not “loaded” by pulling the elbow behind the body. The punch travels straight towards the target from the guard position (hands are held in front of the chest); (2) Protection. The elbow is kept low to cover the front midsection of the body. It is more difficult for an opponent to execute an elbow lock/break when the elbow occupies this position. This aids in generating power by use of the entire body structure rather than only the arm to strike. Also with the elbow down, it offers less opening for the body to be attacked while the forearm and punch intercept space towards the head and upper body; (3) Strength and Impact. Wing Chun practitioners believe that because the elbow is behind the fist during the strike, it is thereby supported by the strength of the entire body rather than just a swinging fist, and therefore has more impact. A common analogy is a baseball bat being swung at someone’s head (a round-house punch), as opposed to the butt end of the bat being thrust forward into the opponent’s face, which would cause far more damage than a glancing hit and is not as easy to evade. Many skilled practitioners pride themselves on being able to generate “short power” or large amount of power in a short space. A common demonstration of this is the “one-inch punch”, a punch that starts only an inch away from the target yet delivers an explosive amount of force; (4) Alignment & Structure. Because of Wing Chun’s usage of stance, the vertical punch is thus more suitable. The limb directly in front of the chest, elbow down, and vertical nature of the punch allows a practitioner to absorb the rebound of the punch by directing it through the elbows and into the stance. This is a desirable trait to a Wing Chun practitioner because it promotes use of the entire body structure to generate power. Whereas, the rebound of a horizontal punch uses only the arm to strike. In this elbow-out position the hinge-structure directs force outwards along the limb producing torque in the puncher’s body.

Wing Chun teaches practitioners to advance quickly and strike at close range. While the Wing Chun forward kick can be considered a long range technique, many Wing Chun practitioners practice “entry techniques”—getting past an opponent’s kicks and punches to bring them within range of Wing Chun’s close range repertoire. This means that theoretically, if the correct techniques are applied, a shorter person with a shorter range can defeat a larger person by getting inside their range and attacking them close to their body.

Chi Sao – or “sticking hands” is a term for the principle and drills used for the development of automatic reflexes upon contact and the idea of “sticking” to the opponent (also known as “sensitivity training”). In reality, the intention is not to “stick” to your opponent at all costs, but rather to protect your centerline while simultaneously attacking your opponent’s centerline. In Wing Chun, this is practiced by two practitioners maintaining contact with each other’s forearms while executing techniques, thereby training each other to sense changes in body mechanics, pressure, momentum and “feel”. The increased sensitivity gained from this drill helps a practitioner attack and counter an opponent’s movements precisely, quickly, and with appropriate techniques.

Chi Sao additionally refers to methods of rolling hands drills. Participants push and “roll” their forearms against each other in a single circle while trying to remain in relaxed form. The aim is to feel force, test resistance, and find defensive gaps. Other branches have a version of this practice where each arm rolls in small, separate circles. Chi Sao is a sensitivity drill to train and obtain specific responses and should not be confused with actual sparring or fighting though it can be practiced or expressed in a combat form.

Kathy Kiefer


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iyengar-asana-bigger11Iyengar Yoga, named after and developed by BKS Iyengar, is a form of Hatha Yoga that has an emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture and breath control. The development of strength, mobility and stability is gained through the asanas.

Iyengar has systematized over 200 classical yoga poses and 14 different types of Pranayama (with variations of many of them) ranging from the basic to advanced. This helps ensure that students progress gradually by moving from simple poses to more complex ones and develop their mind, body and spirit step-by-step.

Iyengar Yoga often makes use of props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets, as aids in performing asanas (postures). The props enable students to perform the asanas correctly, minimizing the risk of injury or strain, and making the postures accessible to both young and old. Iyengar Yoga is firmly based on the traditional eight limbs of yoga.

Iyengar yoga focuses particularly on three aspects. Correct body alignment allows the body to develop harmoniously in an anatomically correct way so that the student suffers no injury or pain when practicing correctly. As all bodies are different and people have different weaknesses and strengths. Props were developed for use in Iyengar yoga; and are objects like wooden blocks, chairs, blankets and belts that help one adjust or support oneself in the different postures so that one can work in a range of motion that is safe and effective.


An added benefit is that although the therapeutic aspects of asanas and pranayama have been known for centuries, the emphasis on correct anatomical
alignment and methods of working have refined the therapeutic aspects of Yoga. Thus practice of Iyengar yoga will often result in eliminating aches and pains, improve posture etc. but Iyengar Yoga can also be used to treat many ailments, including extremely serious medical conditions, under the supervision of a suitably experienced teacher. The other two key aspects of asana practice in the Iyengar system are correct sequencing in which there is a powerful cumulative effect achieved by practicing asanas in particular sequences. The concept of timings means postures are held for considerable lengths of time to let the effects of the poses penetrate deeper within the individual

Pranayama is started once a firm foundation in asana has been established as physically the student requires the alignment, flexibility, lung capacity and training necessary to sit and breathe correctly while practicing. Pranayama gives numerous physical benefits including toning the circulatory, digestive, nervous and respiratory systems, activating the internal organs and creating a feeling of energy and calmness. Equally importantly it also brings the mind and senses under control and makes the individual fit for the experience of meditation.

iyengar-yoga-centre-singaporeOne may, get the impression that Iyengar yoga is just gymnastics and deep breathing or only Asana and Pranayama. This is incorrect.      Asanas and Pranayama are merely used as the tools with which to master all 8 aspects of Astanga yoga. Mastery of the body is the gateway to mastery of the mind. Consider the following: The whole human being from the outermost skin to the innermost being (or soul) is interconnected. For example, if the body is ill, the mind also becomes depressed, lethargic and bad tempered and if the mind is stressed the body becomes tense. The intensity and depth to which Iyengar yoga is practiced on the physical level does affect and change the mind and spirit.

In doing yoga asanas the whole body and mind must learn to become involved. One has to spread one’s awareness to the smallest parts of the body simultaneously so the mind becomes alert, attentive and sharp. One learns to breathe smoothly deeply and evenly so one’s energy (prana) can flow without obstruction and one learns to make the mind quiet, passive and receptive thus promoting a meditative state of mind. This makes the body fit for Pranayama.

Through asanas one also learns an awareness and application of ethics – Yama and Niyama. For example one of the Niyamas is sauca (Purity). An example: iyengar-yogaBecause yoga builds up a very sharp awareness of the state of the body and mind, one becomes very aware of ones state of health and begins to nurture it. So after too much eating and drinking, the body suffers and the mind becomes dull. As one spends more and more time practicing yoga, the obvious contradiction and self-destructiveness becomes more difficult to reconcile and one begins to moderate ones eating and drinking, leading to a more pure lifestyle. Another example of this is the Yama of non-violence. Although superficially Yamas are social ethics and Niyama personal disciplines, both can be applied equally to any situation such as society or the physical body.  While doing Parsvakonasana one may experience pain in the front knee and assume it is at fault for causing one discomfort. But in reality the knee is causing pain because it is forced into an unnatural position by the thigh and buttock working lazily. So the buttock and thigh do the violence by being lazy but we blame the knee. The remedy is to make the buttock and thigh work correctly then the knee can function properly and the discomfort disappears. As one’s sensitivity in the postures increases one also realizes that not only the buttock and thigh but all parts of the body to a greater or lesser extent have had their role in the violence to the knee. This thinking can be applied to society where it is easy to find the roots of violence in unhappy homes, childhood neglect and poor education.

Pranayama is the essential prerequisite for correct true meditation.  It is theoretically possible to achieve a meditative state of mind by merely sitting and concentrating, in practice it is not possible for 99% of people. In meditation the mind is absolutely silent but razor sharp. Many people go to meditation classes, for many years even. But few achieve this state of consciousness; the mind has too many “portals.” It is like a sieve full of water. Whichever hole you block, water continues to pour out of the rest. The mind is too subtle, cunning and restless to be controlled and made still. Therefore, Pranayama is recommended as the breath is used to still the mind. Smooth subtle and controlled breathing is far easier to master than the mind and when the breath becomes smooth and steady so does the mind. Then one can learn to withdraw the senses from external objects and cultivate the state of mind where the experience of meditation can come.

imagesMeditation is a state of mind that cannot be learnt and thus the practice of sitting and attempting to meditate is not a guarantee of results in itself. Rather the foundations of self-culture have to be built through practicing the first five disciplines of yoga. The experience of meditation comes when the student is ready.

This leads to another keynote of Iyengar yoga: meditation in action. If one can meditate on a flame, grain of rice or other subject, why not meditate on the posture one is performing? So, as a student does yoga postures the mind learns to become aware of the different parts of the body. At first the mind moves from part to part but with training learns to become absorbed in all parts of the body evenly at the same time. One learns to refine one’s awareness and penetrate deeper into the body in order to achieve more accurate and thus effective and comfortable postures. So the mind is trained to achieve a meditative state of being. Although pranayama is the real key to preparation for meditation, the progress made is applicable to asanas which can be practiced to such a degree of refinement that one meditates in the posture.

In sum, the Iyengar method of Yoga may be said to define itself as different from other styles of Yoga by 3 key elements, namely technique, sequence and timing: (1) Technique means that in practice one learns ever finer adjustments in the alignment of how one performs one’s asana and pranayama; (2) Sequence refers to the sequences in which asana and pranayama are practiced. For example, by varying which postures are practiced after which, the mental and emotional effects of the practice can be intensified in a manner not otherwise possible in order to bring about changes to the whole being including ones spiritual evolution; and (3) Timing refers to the length of time spent in postures or pranayama.  Postures cannot be done swiftly or without awareness. It takes time to move into a posture and become stable. When this has been achieved then one remains stably for some time to intensify the depth of the posture and so extract its benefit. Otherwise the potential effects and benefits remain small compared to what is possible.

Kathy Kiefer


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If we are Gods, the question naturally arises as to why most of us are unaware of our divinity. In New Age thinking the answer is that we have forgotten who we are. How this divine amnesia occurred is explained in a variety of ways, though usually it is thought that living in these material bodies itself induces the forgetfulness. For some New Agers, living without the conscious recollection of our Godhood is part of the experience of this life which we chose. Many New Agers believe that we are reincarnated many times in order to gain a diversity of experience that will enrich us even though we live each life one at a time. The variations are potentially endless, and New Agers generally don’t argue these questions with one another. Diverse and even contradictory beliefs are for them part of the mosaic, a testimony to the fact that each of us creates his or her own reality, that we are indeed our own God. The only view that New Agers find offensive is the monotheistic claim that God is a transcendent, person being external to, or distinct from, our world and ourselves.

Why do New Agers take offense at monotheism? On one level, of course, anyone who thinks of himself or herself as God is likely to be annoyed at those who deny them this status. Christians are quite right to see the New Age worldview as inherently idolatrous. But New Agers also reject monotheism because they associate it with beliefs and values that they believe are destructive to our world and human life. One very important area in which New Agers press this claim is their concern for the environment.

The New Age movement is a major religious expression of the countercultural trend the bloomed in the 1960s and which at its core represented a radical rejection of the materialistic culture of the West. Crucial to this counterculture was a concern for the environment — what was known as ecology. Environmentalists have been warning for decades that we are polluting our water, air, and soil, destroying our ozone layer, destroying habitats for wildlife species in rain forests and other places, hunting whales and other species to extinction, and in general rushing headlong toward the destruction of our own world.

Many environmentalists have argued that the Christian belief in a sovereign Creator God who authorized the human race to exercise dominion over nature is responsible for the West’s “rape” of the global environment. If this is so, it follows that a key to saving the planet is to abandon the biblical view of God for an ecologically sensitive one — a view that regards the earth itself as alive, as divine, and all living things as manifestations of God.   The doctrine of an external, original creator, who set the universe in motion at a certain time in the past, creates a consistent dualism between creation/mind and nature/matter throughout Western culture. Ecology would suggest, in contrast, that spirit, soul, consciousness, and creativity are part of the mystery of evolution, not outside the process, and that creation is ongoing, not simply an epic event in our past.

Much of the New Age critique of the West’s anti-environmental theology has been shaped through interaction with Native American religions. In Native American thought the Earth is commonly regarded as sacred or even divine, and American use of the land is criticized not merely for threatening our own ecosystem but for violating sacred places and sacred things, and for failing to respect the rights of the animals, all of whom are regarded as sacred as well. A not so subtle example of this message occurred in Disney’s animated feature Pocahontas (1995). In the Academy Award-winning song “Colors of the Wind,” Pocahontas chides the Englishman John Smith for his materialistic view of the earth: You think you own whatever land you land on; the earth is just a dead thing you can claim; But I know every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name.

Technically, this view of all things as possessing their own spirits is known as animism. Attributing life to rocks as well as trees and animals may seem extreme, but in much Native American thought, and now in New Age belief, the Earth itself is viewed as a living organism and as divine. This view of the Earth as divine is closely related to the popular idea of Mother Nature. The choice of “Mother” rather than Father is deliberate and important: in New Age religion feminine images of the divine are preferred over masculine images. New Agers prefer to think of us as birthed by God, not made by God. The Earth as “Gaia” is regarded as a divine mother, sustaining our life, but requiring our love and affection and respect (or worship) in return.

Orthodox Christians have responded to the concerns of environmentalists (and even admits to the existence of what he calls “green fundamentalists,” that is, environmentally responsible evangelical Christians), but judges their response inadequate and essentially supportive of the status quo. In his view there are only three positions possible on the human race’s relationship to the environment. First, we may view ourselves as “lords of the universe,” exercising “lordly dominion” over nature and using and disposing of whatever we find in nature as it suits our purpose. Second, we may view ourselves as “stewards of nature,” responsible to make the best use of nature we can without destroying it. This may sound better than the lordly stance, but it assumes a “paternalistic” superiority of humanity over nature that is arrogant and scientifically untenable. A stewardship model still allows human beings to regard nature as something to be used. The third approach, is to view human beings as having “kinship with nature,” a model that sees humanity and the rest of the species of life in the earth as “interdependent.” If on the view of the Lords and Stewards of nature we may do what we want with the salmon, for instance, on the interdependency model “we are kin to salmon.”   Stewardship in Christian usage makes human beings servants of God and therefore does not permit them to do with creation what they will. Genesis does not authorize human beings to destroy the environment or annihilate species of life. “Dominion” does imply that human beings have a priority or unique place in the created order, but that need not be applied in the abusive way it undoubtedly has been.

There is something strangely inconsistent about the New Age mystical, romantic view of nature. On the one hand, we are told that human beings should think of themselves as part of nature, interdependent with the rest of living things and the earth itself. On the evolutionary view of earth life accepted by New Agers as a given (even if they see some immanent divine principle guiding the process), human beings are no less a part of nature than the salmon, who are our kin (if not exactly our brothers). Every part of nature helps every other part of nature, and together the whole is rich and beautiful and good. This romantic view of nature as inherently good and self-sustaining is eloquently expressed in the animated Disney film The Lion King (1994). In this film the lion Mufasa instructs his cub Simba about the importance of respect for all living things, and answers the obvious objection that lions eat some of those living things:     Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope. . . . When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so, we are all connected in the great circle of life.   Yet, at the same time, we are warned that the human race is in danger of becoming the species that actually destroys its own world. We are warned that alone among all the living things in the universe, human beings exhibit a wanton disregard for their habitat and for other living things. This concern is expressed in The Lion King in parable form, with lions, as the strongest animal in the wild, representing the human race. When Scar, a self-centered lion with no respect for other life (he is seen playing with a mouse before eating it, for example), manages to become king, he temporarily upsets the circle of life by allowing the hyenas unrestricted access to the pride lands. The message is clear enough: Human beings who exploit the earth with no regard for the ecological consequences are no better than a pack of hyenas.

But it begs a more obvious question, if a more difficult one arises: Aren’t hyenas part of the circle of life? Or, to put the matter in a non-metaphorical way, aren’t the selfish, greedy Western capitalists who are accused of seeking to exploit the land (and who are, we would agree, at least partly guilty as charged) part of the circle of life? How, in the romantic picture of all living things from the grass to the antelope to the lion as part of a lush and self-sustaining interdependent ecosystem, directed if at all by an immanent living force of harmony and love, does part of that system rebel and threaten the destruction of the whole?

The idea of the human race as a threat to weaker animals is expressed in yet another animated Disney film, this one the much earlier Bambi (1942). In the chilling words of Bambi’s mother explaining to her young son the reason for the animals’ fear: “Man was in the forest.” While the film Bambi cannot be described as “New Age,” the ominous view of what “Man” has become in relation to nature is one that strikes a chord with New Agers. But again, why is the human race — or at least the greater part of it — like this? Why does every other animal take its place without resistance in the circle of life except humanity?

This is a question to which no sensible answer seems possible in the context of the New Age worldview. If all is God, and we are God, then why would we choose to threaten our own environment? Why would God threaten the life of God? In short, if all is God, why is there evil? Pantheism may seem comforting to some, but it has no reasonable or even plausible answer to this question. Only if the world is not God, but is a realm created by God in which creatures are free to rebel, can the stark reality of evil be explained.

New Age attempts to explain evil are generally far-fetched and often are nothing short of ludicrous. On New Age premises we all choose our physical life; we create our own reality, and each of us makes choices that will contribute to the whole. But why would anyone who is God choose to become Adolf Hitler, or Jeffrey Dahmer? And how can we say that the terribly destructive acts of such persons are anything but evil? Yet one of the principal answers of New Agers to the problem of evil is to deny that it exists. Since we create our own reality, nothing will be evil for us unless we believe it to be evil. This is the message of such New Age books as A Course in Miracles, a book of New Age psychobabble purporting to have been “channeled” to its author, Helen Schuchman, by Jesus himself. How strangely inconsistent with the teaching of the real Jesus, who could say plainly, for example, that “a good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things”.

If New Agers naively view themselves as God and blindly deny the obvious reality of evil in the human heart and the human race, then it is not surprising to find them completely distorting the teachings and significance of Jesus Christ. For them he is an example of how to live like a God, not our sovereign God come down to redeem us from our pretensions to Godhood. The New Age movement gladly confesses Jesus to be God, but then goes on to explain that, of course, so am I and so are you! What is most shocking is that this way of looking at Jesus is gaining a foothold in Christian churches, particularly in the mainline denominations where the desire for unity with people of all religions and an antipathy to the exclusive and sovereign claims of the biblical Christ are leading more and more liberal churchgoers to heed the siren call of the New Age.

While no one strategy provides a foolproof response to this New Age heresy, perhaps one of the most important ways of answering such errors is to use a kind of “intellectual shock therapy.” Every horrific tragedy in the news is another graphic illustration of the reality of evil. Every time a child is killed by a stray bullet or a drunk driver, we should ask if that child chose to die that way. Every New Ager with children (there are a few) should be asked why they try to protect their children from a world which the children are creating for themselves. Every New Ager outraged at the intolerance of the so-called Religious Right should be asked why they virtually demonize a whole religious and cultural community if we are all God and we all create our own truth. C. S. Lewis once wrote that our world is “incorrigibly plural,” a truth that flies in the face of the monistic, pantheistic world view of the New Age. He might also have added that our world is incorrigibly other. It refuses to be what we expect, confronts us with sometimes unpleasant realities, and simply does not conform to our will.

Someone once said that the two most important truths are that there is a God and that we are not him. To these we may add a third: There is a world, and it operates by God’s rules, not ours. To confess these fundamental truths is the beginning of wisdom, and this is what the New Ager and so many others in our society desperately need to hear.


Kathy Kiefer


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What is Pantheism?    Is it some obscure religion that not many have heard about?

Pantheism is the belief that the universe (or nature as the totality of everything) is identical with divinity, or that everything composes an all-encompassing, immanent God.   Pantheists do not believe in a distinct personal or anthropomorphic god.   Some Eastern religions are considered to be pantheistically inclined.

Pantheism was popularized in the West as both a theology and philosophy based on the work of the 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, whose book Ethics was an answer to Descartes’ famous dualist theory that the body and spirit are separate.    Spinoza held the monist view that the two are the same, and monism is a fundamental part of his philosophy.   He was described as a “God-intoxicated man,” and used the word God to describe the unity of all substance. Although the term pantheism was not coined until after his death, Spinoza is regarded as its most celebrated advocate.

Pantheism is derived from the Greek roots pan (meaning “all”) and theos (meaning “God”). There are a variety of definitions of pantheism. Some consider it a theological and philosophical position concerning God.

As a religious position, some describe pantheism as the polar opposite of atheism.  From this standpoint, pantheism is the view that everything is part of an all-encompassing, immanent God. All forms of reality may then be considered either modes of that Being, or identical with it. Others hold that pantheism is a non-religious philosophical position. To them, pantheism is the view that the Universe and God are identical.

It has been widely held that there are  ‘pantheists’ who believe in “a certain universal substance, material as well as intelligent, that fashions all things that exist out of its own essence.”   The universe was found to be immeasurable in respect to a human’s capacity of understanding, and believed that humans would never be able to comprehend it.   The Catholic Church regarded pantheistic ideas as heresy.   An Italian monk, Giordano Bruno, evangelized about an immanent and infinite God, was burned at the stake in 1600 by the Catholic Church. He has since become known as a celebrated pantheist and martyr of science.

Although the term “pantheism” did not exist before the 17th century, various pre-Christian religions and philosophies can be regarded as pantheistic. Pantheism is similar to the ancient Hindu philosophy of non-dualism to the extent that in the 19th-century thought that it was “a western system of philosophy which occupies a foremost rank amongst the philosophies of all nations and ages, and which is so exact a representation of the ideas of the Vedanta, that we might have suspected its founder to have borrowed the fundamental principles of his system from the Hindus.”

In the mid-eighteenth century, pantheism was defined as: “It supposes God and nature, or God and the whole universe, to be one and the same substance—one universal being; insomuch that men’s souls are only modifications of the divine substance.”  Yet in the early nineteenth century, a German theologian defined pantheism as the belief that God and the world established by God are one and the same.    In the late 20th century, pantheism was often declared to be the underlying theology of Neopaganism, and Pantheists began forming organizations devoted specifically to Pantheism and treating it as a separate religion.

Pantheism is mentioned in a Papal encyclical in 2009 and a statement on New Year’s Day in 2010, criticizing pantheism for denying the superiority of humans over nature and “seeing the source of man’s salvation in nature”.   In a review of the 2009 film Avatar, Ross Douthat, an author, described pantheism as “Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now”.

There are multiple varieties of pantheism which have been placed along various spectra or in discrete categories.      Some have argued against treating every meaning of “unity” as an aspect of pantheism, and there exist versions of pantheism that regard determinism as an inaccurate or incomplete view of nature

It may also be possible to distinguish two types of pantheism, one being more religious and the other being more philosophical.   The Columbia Encyclopedia writes of the distinction:    “If the pantheist starts with the belief that the one great reality, eternal and infinite, is God, he sees everything finite and temporal as but some part of God. There is nothing separate or distinct from God, for God is the universe. If, on the other hand, the conception taken as the foundation of the system is that the great inclusive unity is the world itself, or the universe, God is swallowed up in that unity, which may be designated nature.”

Religious inclined pantheisms include some forms of Hinduism while philosophical inclined pantheisms include Stoicism.

In 1896, several categories of pantheism were identified: Mechanical or materialistic (God the mechanical unity of existence); Ontological (fundamental unity); Dynamic; Psychical (God is the soul of the world); Ethical (God is the universal moral order); Logical; and Pure (absorption of God into nature, which is equated with atheism).     More recently, several other categories of pantheism were identified: Hylozoistic; Immanentistic; Absolutistic monistic; Relativistic monistic; Acosmic; Identity of opposites; and Neoplatonic or emanationistic.

There are several elements of pantheism in some forms of Christianity, Islam (Sufism), Buddhism, Judaism, Gnosticism, Neopaganism, and  Theosophy as well as in several tendencies in many theistic religions. The Islamic religious tradition, in particular Sufism and Alevism, has a strong belief in the unitary nature of the universe and the concept that everything in it is an aspect of God itself, although their perspective, like many traditional perspectives, may lean closer to panentheism.  Many other traditional and folk religions including African traditional religionsand Native American religionscan be seen as pantheistic, or a mixture of pantheism and other doctrines such as polytheismand animism. A variety of modern paganists also hold pantheistic views.

It is generally regarded that Hindu religious texts are the oldest known literature containing pantheistic ideas

The branches of Hinduism teaching forms of pantheism are known as non-dualist schools.  All Mahavakyas (Great Sayings) of the Upanishads, in one way or another, seem to indicate the unity of the world with the Brahman.  It further says, “This whole universe is Brahman, from Brahman to a clod of earth.”

In the tradition of its leading thinkers Lao Tzu and Zhuangzi, Taoism is comparable with pantheism, as the Tao is always spoken of with profound religious reverence and respect, similar to the way that pantheism discusses the “God” that is everything. The Tao Te Chingnever speaks of a transcendent God, but of a mysterious and numinous ground of being underlying all things. Zhuangzi emphasized the pantheistic content of Taoism even more clearly: “Heaven and I were created together, and all things and I are one.” When Tung Kuo Tzu asked Zhuangzi where the Tao was, he replied that it was in the ant, the grass, the clay tile, even in excrement: “There is nowhere where it is not… There is not a single thing without Tao.”

Two organizations that specify the word pantheism in their title formed in the last quarter of the 20th century. The Universal Pantheist Society, open to all varieties of pantheists and supportive of environmental causes, was founded in 1975.    The World Pantheist Movement has been considered by some a form of religious naturalism. It has been described as an example of “dark green religion” with a focus on environmental ethics.

Nature worship or nature mysticism is often conflated and confused with pantheism. It is pointed out by at least one expert in pantheist philosophy that Spinoza’s identification of God with nature is very different from a recent idea of a self-identifying pantheist with environmental ethical concerns.   There are many nature mystics who also identify as pantheists use “nature” to refer to the limited natural environment (as opposed to man-made built environment). This use of “nature” is different from the broader use other pantheists describing natural laws and the overall phenomena of the physical world. Nature mysticism may be compatible with pantheism but it may also be compatible with theism and other views.

Panentheismwas formally coined in Germany in the 19th century in an attempt to offer a philosophical synthesis between traditional theism and pantheism, stating that God is substantially omnipresent in the physical universe but also exists “apart from” or “beyond” it as its Creator and Sustainer.   Panentheism separates itself from pantheism, positing the extra claim that God exists above and beyond the world as we know it.   The line between pantheism and panentheism can be blurred depending on varying definitions of God, so there have been disagreements when assigning particular notable figures to pantheism or panentheism.

Pandeism is another word derived from pantheism and is characterized as a combination of reconcilable elements of pantheism and deism. It assumes a Creator-deity which is at some point distinct from the universe and then merges with it, resulting in a universe similar to the pantheistic one in present essence, but differing in origin.

Panpsychism is the philosophical view held by many pantheists that consciousness, mind, or soul is a universal feature of all things.   Some pantheists also subscribe to the distinct philosophical views hylozoism (or panvitalism), the view that everything is alive, and its close neighbor animism, the view that everything has a soul or spirit.

Kathy Kiefer


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Acupressure, a non-invasive form of acupuncture, uses physical pressure applied to acupressure points by the hand, elbow, or with various devices.   Acupuncture is often accompanied by moxibustion, the burning of cone-shaped preparations of moxa (made from dried mugwort) on or near the skin, often but not always near or on an acupuncture point.   Traditionally acupuncture was used to treat acute conditions while moxibustion was used for chronic disease.   Moxibustion could be direct (the cone was placed directly on the skin and allowed to burn the skin producing a blister and eventually a scar), or indirect (either a cone of moxa was placed on a slice of garlic, ginger or other vegetable, or a cylinder of moxa was held above the skin, close enough to either warm or burn it).  Cupping therapy is an ancient Chinese form of alternative medicine in which a local suction is created on the skin; practitioners believe this mobilizes blood flow in order to promote healing.  Tui na is a TCM method of attempting to stimulate the flow of qi by various bare handed techniques that do not involve needles.   Electro-acupuncture is a form of acupuncture in which acupuncture needles are attached to a device that generates continuous electric pulses (this has been described as “essentially transdermal electrical nerve stimulation masquerading as acupuncture”).    Sonopuncture or acutonics is a stimulation of the body similar to acupuncture, but using sound instead of needles.  This may be done using purpose-built transducers to direct a narrow ultrasound beam to a depth of 6–8 centimeters at acupuncture meridian points on the body.   Alternatively, tuning forks or other sound emitting devices are used.   Acupuncture point injection is the injection of various substances (such as drugs, vitamins or herbal extracts) into acupuncture point.  Auriculotherapy or ear acupuncture is a form of acupuncture developed in France which is based on the assumption of reflexological representation of the entire body in the outer ear.  Scalp acupuncture is based on reflexological considerations regarding the scalp area; it has been developed in Japan.   Hand acupuncture centers around assumed reflex zones of the hand; it has been developed in Korea.   Medical acupuncture attempts to integrate reflexological concepts, the trigger point model, and anatomical insights into acupuncture practice, and emphasizes a more formulaic approach to acupuncture point location.    Cosmetic acupuncture is the use of acupuncture in an attempt to reduce wrinkles on the face.

The application of evidence-based medicine to researching acupuncture’s effectiveness is a controversial activity, which has produced different results in a growing evidence base of research.   Some of the research results suggest acupuncture can alleviate pain but others suggest, not inconsistently, that acupuncture’s effects are mainly due to placebo.  It is difficult to design research trials for acupuncture.   Due to acupuncture’s invasive nature, one of the major challenges in efficacy research is in the design of an appropriate placebo control group.  For the efficacy studies to determine whether acupuncture has specific effects, “sham” forms of acupuncture seem the most acceptable method for a control group.   An analysis suggested that sham controlled trials may underestimate the total treatment effect of acupuncture (i.e. the incidental therapeutic factors such as talking and listening which are characteristic of the intervention), as the sham treatment is based on the hypothesis that only needling is the characteristic treatment element.

A review found acupuncture to provide clinically significant relief from knee osteoarthritis pain and a larger improvement in function than sham acupuncture, standard care treatment, or waiting for treatment.  The Osteoarthritis Research Society International released a set of consensus recommendations concluded acupuncture may be useful for treating the symptoms of osteoarthritis of the knee. A review found that acupuncture shows statistically significant benefit over sham acupuncture in the treatment of peripheral joint osteoarthritis; however, these benefits were found to be so small that their clinical significance was doubtful, and “probably due at least partially to placebo effects from incomplete blinding

Brain imaging studies have shown that traditional acupuncture and sham acupuncture differ in their effect on limbic structures, while at the same time showed equivalent analgesic effects.    A review for the American Pain Society/American College of Physicians found fair evidence that acupuncture is effective for chronic low back pain.

Acupuncture is generally safe when administered using clean technique and sterile single use needles.    Between 2000 and 2009, ninety-five cases of serious adverse, including five deaths were reported.   Many such events are not inherent to acupuncture but are due to malpractice of acupuncturists.  This might be why such complications have not been reported in surveys of adequately-trained acupuncturists.   Most such reports are from Asia, which may reflect the large number of treatments performed there or it might be because there are a relatively higher number of poorly trained Asian acupuncturists. Many serious adverse events were reported from developed countries.  This included Australia, Austria, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.   The number of adverse effects reported from the UK appears particularly unusual, which may indicate less under-reporting in the UK than other countries, 38 cases of infections were reported and 42 cases of organ trauma were reported.  The most frequent adverse events included pneumothorax, and bacterial and viral infections.  When not delivered properly by a qualified practitioner it can cause potentially serious adverse effects.   To reduce the risk of serious adverse events after acupuncture, acupuncturists should be trained sufficiently.

The most common adverse effect observed was infection, and the majority of infections were bacterial in nature, caused by skin contact at the needling site.   Infections have also been caused by skin contact with unsterilized equipment or dirty towels, in an unhygienic clinical setting. Other adverse complications included five reported cases of  spinal cord injuries (migrating broken needles or needling too deeply), four brain injuries, four peripheral nerve injuries, five heart injuries, seven other organ and tissue injuries, bilateral hand edema, epithelioid granuloma, pseudo lymphoma, argyria,  pustules, pancytopenia, and scarring due to hot needle technique. Adverse reactions from acupuncture, which are unusual and uncommon in typical acupuncture practice, were syncope, galactorrhoea, bilateral nystagmus, pyoderma gangrenosum, hepatotoxicity, eruptive lichen planus, and spontaneous needle migration.

When used on children, acupuncture is safe when administered by well-trained, licensed practitioners using sterile needles; however, there was limited research to draw definite conclusions about the overall safety of pediatric acupuncture. The same review found 279 adverse events, of which 25 were serious. The adverse events were mostly mild in nature (e.g. bruising or bleeding). The prevalence of mild adverse events ranged from 10.1% to 13.5%, an estimated 168 incidences were among 1,422 patients.   On rare occasions adverse events were serious (cardiac rupture or hemoptysis), many might have been a result of substandard practice. The incidence of serious adverse events was 5 per one million, which included children and adults. When used during pregnancy, the majority of adverse events caused by acupuncture were mild and transient, with few serious adverse events.  The most frequent mild adverse event was needling or unspecified pain, followed by bleeding. Although two deaths (one stillbirth and one neonatal death) were reported, there was a lack of acupuncture associated maternal mortality. Limiting the evidence as certain, probable or possible in the causality evaluation, the estimated incidence of adverse events following acupuncture in pregnant women was 131 per 10,000.  In pregnant women needle insertion should be avoided in the abdominal region

As with other alternative medicines, unethical or naïve practitioners may also induce patients to exhaust financial resources by pursuing ineffective treatment.    Profession ethical codes set by accrediting organizations such as the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine requires practitioners to make “timely referrals to other health care professionals as may be appropriate.”  Acupuncture is a key component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  An editorial in the journal Nature stated that TCM is largely pseudoscience, with no valid mechanism of action for the majority of its treatments.   It has notions of a pre-scientific culture, similar to European humoral therapy.  According to TCM, the general theory of acupuncture is based on the premise that bodily functions are regulated by an energy called qi which flows through the body; disruptions of this flow are believed to be responsible for disease. Acupuncture describes a family of procedures aiming to correct imbalances in the flow of qi by stimulation of anatomical locations on or under the skin (usually called acupuncture points or acupoints), by a variety of techniques. The most common mechanism of stimulation of acupuncture points employs penetration of the skin by thin metal needles, which are manipulated manually or by electrical stimulation.

Actuation is of all physical processes in the body, especially the circulation of all body fluids such as blood in their vessels. This includes actuation of the functions of the zang-fu organs and meridians.   Defense against Exogenous Pathogenic Factors.   Containment of body fluids, i.e. keeping blood, sweat, urine, semen, from leakage or excessive emission.     Transformation of food, drink, and breathe into qi, xue (blood), and jinye (“fluids”), and/or transformation of all of the latter into each other.

To fulfill its functions, qi has to steadily flow from the inside of the body (where the zang-fu organs are located) to the “superficial” body tissues of the skin, muscles, tendons, bones, and joints.  It is assisted in its flow by “channels” referred to as meridians. TCM identifies 12 “regular” and 8 “extraordinary” meridians.   There are also a number of less customary channels branching off from the “regular” meridians.  Contemporary research has not supported the existence of qi or meridians.  The meridians are believed to connect to the bodily organs, of which those considered hollow organs (such as the stomach and intestines) were also considered yang while those considered solid (such as the liver and lungs) were considered yin. They were also symbolically linked to the rivers found in ancient China, such as the Yangtze, Wei and Yellow Rivers.

Acupuncture points are mainly (but not always) found at specified locations along the meridians. There is also a number of acupuncture points with specified locations outside of the meridians; these are called extraordinary points and are credited to treat certain diseases.   A third category of acupuncture points called “A-shi” points have no fixed location but represent tender or reflexive points appearing in the course of pain syndromes. The actual number of points have varied considerably over time, initially they were considered to number 365, symbolically aligning with the number of days in the year (the number of bones thought to be in the body). The Nei ching mentioned only 160 and a further 135 could be deduced giving a total of 295.   The modern total was once considered 670 but subsequently expanded due to more recent interest in auricular (ear) acupuncture and the treatment of further conditions.   In addition, it is considered likely that some points used historically have since ceased being used.

Kathy Kiefer


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552664_607892409229008_834340010_nSummer is the warmest of the four temperate seasons, between spring and autumn.  At the summer solstice, the days are longest and the nights are shortest, with day-length decreasing as the season progresses after the solstice. The date of the beginning of summer varies according to climate, culture, and tradition, but when it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and vice versa.

From an astronomical view, the equinoxes and solstices would be the middle of the respective seasons, but a variable seasonal lag means that the meteorological start of the season, which is based on average temperature patterns, occurs several weeks later than the start of the astronomical season. According to meteorologists, summer extends for the whole months of June, July, and August in the northern hemisphere and the whole months of December, January, and February in the southern hemisphere. Under meteorological definitions, all seasons are arbitrarily set to start at the beginning of a calendar month and end at the end of a month. This meteorological definition of summer also aligns with the commonly viewed notion of summer as the season with the longest (and warmest) days of the year, in which daylight predominates. The meteorological reckoning of seasons is used in Austria, Denmark and the former Soviet Union; it is also used by many in the United Kingdom, where summer is thought of as extending from mid-May to mid-August. In Ireland, the summer months according to the national meteorological service, Met Eireann, are June, July and August. However, according to the Irish calendar summer begins May 1st and ends August 1st. School textbooks in Ireland follow the cultural norm of summer commencing on May 1st rather than the meteorological definition of June1st.

Days continue to lengthen from equinox to solstice and summer days progressively shorten after the solstice, so meteorological summer encompasses the build-up to the longest day and a diminishing thereafter, with summer having many more hours of daylight than spring. Solstices and equinoxes are taken to mark the midpoints, not the beginnings, of the seasons. Midsummer takes place over the shortest night of the year, which is the summer solstice, or on a nearby date that varies with tradition.

The Western definition based on solstice to equinox is more frequently used where a temperature lag of up to half a season is common (usually June 20 or 21 in the Northern Hemisphere) to the autumn equinox.  The summer season in the United States is commonly regarded as beginning on Memorial Day weekend (the last weekend in May) and ending on Labor Day weekend (the first weekend in September), more closely in line with the meteorological definition; the similar Canadian tradition starts summer on Victoria Day one week prior (although summer conditions vary widely across Canada’s expansive territory) and ends, as in the United States, on Labour Day.

According to Chinese astronomy, summer starts on or around 5 May, with the solar term jieqi which is also known as lixiai.  i.e. “establishment of summer”, and it ends on or around August 6th.544965_408971442454440_462598284_n

In southern and southeast Asia, where the monsoon occurs, summer is more generally defined as lasting from March to May/early June, the warmest time of the year, ending with the onset of the monsoon rains.  Because the temperature lag is shorter in the oceanic temperate southern hemisphere most countries in this region, especially Australia and New Zealand,  use the meteorological definition with summer starting on December 1st  and ending on the last day of February.

Summer is traditionally associated with hot dry weather, but this does not occur in all regions. In areas of the tropics and subtropics, the wet season occurs during the summer. The wet season is the main period of vegetation growth within the savanna climate regime. Where the wet season is associated with a seasonal shift in the prevailing winds, it is known as a monsoon.

In the northern Atlantic Ocean, a distinct tropical cyclone season occurs from June 1st to the 30th of November.  The statistical peak of the Atlantic hurricane season is September 10th.  The 2183850934_d20d281203Northeast Pacific Ocean has a broader period of activity, but in a similar time frame to the Atlantic. The Northwest Pacific sees tropical cyclones year-round, with a minimum in February and March and a peak in early September. In the North Indian basin, storms are most common from April to December, with peaks in May and November. In the Southern Hemisphere, the tropical cyclone season runs from November 1st until the end of April with peaks in mid-February to early March.

Thunderstorm season in the USA and Canada runs in the spring through summer. These storms can produce hail, strong winds and tornadoes, usually during the afternoon and evening.

Schools and universities typically have a summer break to take advantage of the warmer weather and longer days. In all countries, children are out of school during this time of year for summer break, although dates vary. In the United States, public schools usually end in early June while colleges get out in early May. In India, school ends in April and resumes in early June.  In England and Wales, school ends in mid-July and resumes again in early September; in Scotland the summer holiday begins in late June and ends in mid- to late-August. In the Southern hemisphere, school summer holiday dates include the major holidays of Christmas and New Year’s Day.  School summer holidays in Australia and South Africa begin in mid-December and end in late January, with the dates varying between states.

A wide range of public holidays fall during summer.


  • The feast of the Assumption of Mary on August 15 (or August 28 in the Orthodox Churches) in Austria, Belgium, Chile, Columbia, Croatia, Equator, France, German, Greece,   Lebanon, Lithuania, Italy, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and parts of  Switzerland;
  • Australia’s  (Australia Day) national day on January 26th;
  • Canada Day,  Canada’s national day on July 1st;
  • Bank Holidays in the United Kingdom and Ireland;
  • The Day of Reconciliation in South Africa on December 16th;
  • Olavsoka, national holiday in the Faroe Islands on July 29th;
  • Independence Days – Afghanistan on August 19th, Argentina on July 9th, Algeria on July 5th, Bahamas on July 10th, Bahrain on August 15th,  Belarus on July 3rd, Central African Republic on August 13th, Columbia on July 20th and August 7th, Djuouti on June 27th,  Estonia on August 20th, Jamaica on August 6th, Kyrgyzstan on August 31. The Maldives on July 26th, Moldova on August 27th, Niger on August 3rd, Pakistan on August 14th, Philippines on June 12th, Slovakia on July 17th, Somalia on July 1st, Sweden on June 6th,   Switzerland on August 1st, Tanzania on December 9th, Trinidad and Tobago on August 31st, Ukraine on August 24th, the United States on July 4th and Venezuela on July 5th.

60617_608356432515939_997571297_nPeople take advantage of the warmer temperatures by spending more time outdoors during the summer. Activities such as traveling to the beach and picnics occur during summer months. Sports such as cricket, volleyball, skateboarding, baseball, softball, Canadian football, tennis and water polo are played. Water sports also occur. These include water skiing, wake boarding, swimming, surfing and tubing. The modern Olympics have been held during the summer months every four years since 1896. The 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, however, were held during the Australian spring.

Summer is usually a low point in television viewing, and television schedules generally reflect this by not scheduling new episodes of their most popular shows between the end of May sweeps and the beginning of the television season in September, instead scheduling low-cost reality television shows and burning off commitments to already-canceled series. Conversely, the music and film industries generally experience higher returns during the summer than other times of the year and market their summer hits accordingly. The summer season is also most popular for animation movies to be released in movie theaters.

With most school-age children and college students (except those attending summer school) on summer vacation during the summer months, especially in the United States, travel and vacationing traditionally peaks during the summer, with the volume of travel in a typical summer weekend rivaled only by Thanksgiving.  Teenagers and college students often take summer jobs in industries that cater to recreation.

Kathy Kiefer