Some believe that the driving forces and causes behind ''yuánfèn'' are the actions done in the previous reincarnations. 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'' , "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, Chinese merely use this word poetically or to emphasize a meant-to-be relationship, and almost never in a serious business or legal situation.
* The proverbial saying "Have 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 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
* Literally: It takes hundreds of reincarnations 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 ,which means literally: ten years of meditation bring two people to cross a river in the same ferry, and a hundred years of meditation bring two people to rest their heads on the same pillow. It conveys the same message.
Often ''yuánfèn'' is said to be the equivalent of "fate" 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'' , 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 s, whereas ''yuánfèn'' does not necessarily involve divine intervention.