As the New Year approaches, I feel apprehensive and a bit sad. This will be the first New Year since the passing of Liu Ming, and all of his students, I’m sure, are reminded of his absence in the absence of his beloved New Year’s talk. As one of his distant students, I cannot hope to fill his shoes in this or any regard. So I begin this blog by honoring his memory and paying homage to his wisdom. Thank you, Lao Ge; I hope the following blog makes you happy.
At the turn of the New Year, many Chinese Astrologers come forward and write articles on the coming year and what each Qi Character should expect—usually taking the form of a list, for example detailing what Tiger’s should do/expect in a Monkey year and so on. But that is fortunetelling, and I would like to do something different. Yes, I will briefly discuss the Yang Fire Monkey year, but I must contend that this information is useless without wisdom; if we do not understand what is meant by “Qi Character” in Chinese Astrology, then any list of strategies for Tigers, Roosters, and so on in the upcoming year will only further our confusion. So as usual, I insist that we back up and examine the VIEW TEACHINGS before delving into details about the 12 animals.
Character is perhaps the most important teaching in Chinese Astrology, and yet it is probably the most misunderstood. This is due largely to the availability of vague information about the 12 animals on the back of Chinese menus. Most people have heard of their Qi Character in the Chinese Zodiac, but very few grasp the profundity of what is meant by Goat, Monkey, or Rooster Qi. So before we can understand what Monkey Qi means for us in the coming New Year, we must understand the basic wisdom of Qi Character.
So I will begin by saying that Qi Character is a description of Qi (hopefully this is obvious). In other words, the use of animals is, clearly, symbolic. If we get hung up on the symbol, then we fail to look beyond “Monkey” into our own experience. Monkey is a description of a pattern or display of Qi.
Qi is one of the true profundities of the Chinese Tradition. The Chinese Tradition of the Mantic Arts represents over 10,000 years of research into the questions—what is a human being and what is the universe? In contemplating these questions, the Chinese never came up with God; they never came up with a Self, and they never discovered a substantial world. What they discovered was Qi.
What is Qi? Well that is a difficult question to answer. In my own words, I would describe the universe as a vast sea of unimpeded light moving within unbounded, limitless space; the Chinese might call this vast unknowable sea Tao. We are able to see and experience the light of Tao because it moves/vibrates on a spectrum, like a rainbow. This movement quality of light is called Qi, and everything we call “stuff,” “substance,” objects in space, are a display of Qi patterning/moving in a particular way, both cyclic and rhythmic. An aspect of our fundamental nature is mirror like, called Shen, sometimes translated as the heart-mind; this heart-mind reflects the light of Tao and "crystallizes" it into a universe which appears to be somewhat stable due to the five phase/element cycle of Qi, which I described in a past blog.
Of course, that is all philosophical and abstract. Big fancy ideas aside, we need not look anywhere but our own experience to understand Qi.
What is a human being? A pattern of Qi. If you observe your own experience, you will find that what you are has a streaming, flowing quality like the flame of a candle, and all that you experience is a kind of movement made visible/apparent because of a still, spacious, clear, and aware background. Everything alternates between motion and stillness, and even in the deepest state of meditative quiescence, a subtle undulation or pulsation always persists. Emptiness is pregnant with vitality and infinite potential, so Qi is also a kind of vitality, life, or sentience. Everything in the universe is alive and eating.
No stillness exists apart from movement and no movement apart from stillness. We call this movement Qi. Qi is not substance, and it is not visible; you cannot photograph it, measure it, or detect it with machines. In this sense, the Chinese Tradition and western Science will never meet. We can call Qi “energy,” which aligns more with quantum physics, but it is important to recognize that we experience this energy not because it is substantial but because it is always in a state of flux. Qi Character, then, symbolically describes the character/quality of Qi depending on where/when it appears in the eternal flow or procession of time. Qi is movement, and all movement takes place in time; so for astrologers, Qi is time, which is compound and processional.
The View of Chinese Astrology, then, states that this flux of Qi flows in a temporal and mathematical procession. Chinese Astrology, strictly speaking is not actually Astrology but “Chronology.” This flow of Qi, like our clocks (which despite our linear time fixation are also a circle), goes around and around. It does not go anywhere except “around.” If we have a linear view of time, we believe that time is “going somewhere,” that it is progressing/evolving towards an ideal, a perfect future, or towards some big catastrophic end/apocalypse, which goes hand in hand with saying that God created the universe or that there was a big bang. Astrology cannot accept the notion of a beginning or end unless we state that they are the same point on a circle going nowhere except 'round.
After thousands of years of observation, the Chinese Tradition have been able to identify and name the mathematical steps, the “tic marks,” in this procession of Qi/time, which flows in concentric circles, spiraling outward projecting the universe from our Shen (which is located symbolically in the chest) to Tao, which describes the big non-dual “whatever.”
Still with me? So the Chinese Tradition states that Qi/time flows in a basic pattern of 60, derived from the cycle of Jupiter. It takes Jupiter 60 years to end up back in the same place, which is where we get 60 seconds, 60 minutes, etc. Cultures all over the world came up with this pattern of 60. Each pattern of 60 is either Yin or Yang, which gives us 60 x 2 or 120, which is the basic life expectancy according to Chinese Medicine and the length of a “cycle of fate,” given to us by our ancestors, which is what I read in a natal chart during an astrology session.
In past blogs, I described Yin-Yang and the Five Elements, which are called the Heavenly Stems. Together, this gives us a pattern of 10, again describing the flow of Qi in the universe from Microcosm to Macrocosm. So to get 60, we are left with a pattern of 12. These 12, which go to 60, are called the Earthly Branches. In other words, this is one of the primary ways that Qi displays on planet Earth in relation to the greater cycles of Yin-Yang-5 Elements in Heaven/the Universe. 5 elements x 12 branches = 60 types of Qi in the flow of time.
In order to grasp the profundity of the 12 Branches, we describe them with basic and relatable animal symbols, each of which are connected to a myriad of details within Chinese Medicine (organs, for example), Astrology, Feng Shui, and so on.
After thousands of years of observing Qi in human beings and in the natural world/universe, the Chinese noticed that certain categories of animals exemplified certain traits, which captured the essence of these patterns of Qi. Over the course of time, these animals became iconic, and we settled on 12, each with five elemental variations. The use of the stems and branches are among the earliest time records in human history, discovered on oracle bones from the Shang Dynasty (c. 1200–1045 BCE). Now, this sexagenary cycle is used all over Asia to form the basic calendar. In China, this calendar is called the Tong-Shu, and it is the longest printed book in human history.
In the big picture, this cycle of 60 describes epochs of 60 years, the last of which began in 1984 with the Yang Wood Rat. The cycle of Qi/time spirals outwards, infinitely marking the spiraling of galaxies and incalculable eons, and it spirals inwards, marking 60 months, 60 days, 60 hours, 60 seconds, and so on. In our body, this same cycle is reflected in our breathing, our digesting of food, our circulating of blood/Qi/Jing, our waking, dreaming, and sleeping, and in our reproductive system.
In popular folk Astrology, our basic Qi Character is read according to the year, month, day, and hour, called the Ba Zi, the Eight Characters, or Four Pillars. In the tradition I learned from Liu Ming, our Qi Character is derived primarily from a synthesis of the year and hour.
But what does all this mean? We are about to enter the year of the Yang Fire Monkey. Yang Fire Monkey, then, describes the Qi Pattern of the whole universe (relative to planet earth) starting February 8th. That’s a pretty big idea; so again, I must insist that we understand what Qi Character means in relation to our basic human experience before we can relate it to the whole universe beginning February 8th.
First, the view of Chinese Astrology states that we are a Qi Character. We do not have a Qi Character so much as we are a Qi Character. In other words, our Qi Character has something to do with the timeliness of our birth. We come into being somewhere/when in the procession of time when the Qi of the Universe is patterning in a particular way, as a compounded flow of the types of Qi that accord to the year, month, day, and hour.
For example, I was born during a Yang Metal Dragon Hour on a Yang Metal Horse Day during the Yin Fire Rooster Month of a Yang Fire Tiger Year. So at the moment of my birth, the Qi on planet Earth was a synthesis of these patterns. According to Astrology, I emerged during Dragon Hour as a living embodied expression of these patterns of Qi.
In a way, the pattern we are born out of/into patterns us; we are conditioned by this energy. Everything that comes into being at a particular moment in time does so as an expression of that moment in time—everything from people, to cats, mold, tadpoles, countries (the USA is a Fire Monkey, for example), ideas, and so. Anything that we can say “begins” relatively speaking (nothing really begins in the Chinese View) has a Qi Character and a Fate.
In relation to human beings, the timeliness of our birth generates a pattern of Qi that we display from birth to death. So as I often explain to clients, the wisdom of our Qi character begins by understanding that it is with us until death. Our living embodiment comes together as a synthesis of these energies, and this basic pattern does not disperse until death, when our Five Spirits (the subject of another blog) and Five Elements return to Tao, to “don’t know.”
So I was born a Tiger, and I will die a Tiger. My “Tiger-ness” does not change; it does improve; it does not get educated. I cannot choose to be a Rabbit. Tiger represents a basic pattern of Qi that displays certain qualities and characteristics depending on my health, harmony, happiness, and so on. If I am in a state of ill-health and disharmony, then I tend to display the more negative or constricted qualities of Tiger Qi, and likewise if I am health, happy, and harmonious then I display its virtue qualities. Tiger Qi is natural to me, and whatever Qi character you display is natural for you.
We study our Qi Character in Chinese Astrology to learn our natural pattern so that we do not resist or fight against it, trying to be something we are not. In turn, we learn about the Qi Character of others so we can understand what is natural for them, so we do not expect them to change in a way they fundamentally never will. Knowing we cannot escape our Character, we can learn to “go with it,” especially when we learn of our more difficult patterns. Tiger Qi for example represent a basic impulse to “break free” and “start again” because our outer element is Yang Wood, which often causes Tigers to disappear and abandon situations we find difficult or constraining (especially Fire Tigers like me). Everyone can do this, but Tigers especially do this. Each Character has a certain energetic impulse most characteristic of them that manifests as behavior patterns.
In the tradition I learned, the year is our primary Qi Character, and the hour is secondary. The year is like a noun, and the hour is like an adjective. The year represents the big picture of our behavior patterns, based on a deep fundamental impulse, and the hour often describes more surface level personality traits, the way the Qi of the year gets focused.
I am often asked—why is the year primary? Doesn’t this mean that everyone born in 1986 has the same Qi Character? Yes.
Character is not personality. Character represents a pattern of Qi, an energetic impulse that can display numerous personalities, depending on numerous conditions. According to the Chinese Tradition everyone born in 1986 has a great deal in common. The wisdom of Chinese Astrology is not individualistic. The goal of studying Astrology is to discover how much you have in common with everyone. We are a cast of 60 Characters, and we play out the same stories over and over again with different details.
So Chinese Astrology says there are 60 basic types of people. If you add the month, day, and hour (60x60x60x60) we get 12,960,000 types of people, but basically there are 60. And each of these Qi patterns interacts with the other Qi patterns in a particular way. Some are opposite; some are complementary; some are neutral. Studying these patterns reveals a great deal, not only about human relationships, but about relationships in society and nature. Studying the Qi of the year, for example, reveals a lot about life, history, events, politics, and so on.
Finally, we cannot understand the 12 Qi Characters if we get hung up on them as personalities. They are more like a whirlwind in open space. Liu Ming once used the image of dropping a leaf into this whirlwind; it falls fast at some points of the whirlwind and slowly at other points.
In other words, if we make them personalities, then we want them to be equal, but they are not. Our calendar in the West is fixed, which is why Western Astrology is off by almost a month, but nature is not fixed. Some months are longer than others, so are some days. Time does not flow equally, and so the different Qi Characters are not “equal,” but they are each capable in different and distinct ways.
So how does this work? I have no idea, but it does. This knowledge has been known and tested for thousands of years in Asia. I have no interest in trying to explain why everyone born in 1986 (within the lunar year) is a Tiger, but we are.
Many people are skeptical of their Qi Character. Many read the back of Chinese menus and say “that’s not me; I don’t do that!” Yes you do. If you have any self reflection at all, your Qi Character will resonate with you. And often the most basic statements are the most revealing—Tigers are impulsive. This wisdom actually changed my life.
Often the basic descriptions are vague, and we can say “everyone does that!” Yes; that’s the point—what we have in common, not what makes us beautiful unique snowflakes. Most of the personal stories that we cherish and think special are common as dirt.
According to Astrology, all of us move through these energies every hour, every day, every month, every year, so we should be familiar and identify with all of them to a degree. I can explain each Character in such a way that you will identify with it. In the West, we believe wisdom is somehow based on precision, based on our exaltation of science/engineering, but in Chinese Astrology this is not the case.
So, now we arrive at Yang Fire Monkey, the New Lunar Year, which we move into beginning February 8th. What do I have to say about it? While I could go into an in-depth description of Fire Monkey Qi, I will not, because I don’t think there is much wisdom in giving people strategies in order to avoid discomfort, which is very “Monkey,” and this is because I am a Tiger, which is Monkey’s opposite. I do not find these lists very helpful because I feel that we tend to entertain them and then forget them. It is helpful to understand that we cannot change our Character. As an Astrologer, this is where I find wisdom. But again, I am a Tiger, so everything I have written here is a display of my Tiger Qi, which I cannot help. I try to describe things in a way that everyone can understand, but this is all a kind of “Tiger” way of understanding.
Fire Monkey could be a powerful year for many people, but then again, so can any year. Many people I know are little frightened by the image of a Fire Monkey, but not to worry.
I will say that Monkey Qi represents a fundamental impulse to push boundaries, test limits, explore, play, manipulate, imagine, imitate, and take risks; Monkey is a kind of responsive, vigilant, alert, pervasive, "scanning" Qi, which seeks to recognize danger/threats in order to adapt, play, poke, test, and ultimately avoid danger. Monkey Qi is, perhaps, the most resilient of the 12 and can go far far out into oblivion and always come back unscathed. It represents the mystical and often delicate border between imagination and vision, between fantasy and insight, defined by Monkey’s Outer Element—Yang Metal. Monkey Qi represents a kind of active resourcefulness, gathering, amassing, and manipulating resources for the best advantage. The symbol of Monkey is related to the Human Realm, and in its negative qualities represent the danger of delusion and desire. In its depleted state, Monkey Qi can become frantic, nervous, erratic, compulsive, anxious, unfocused, deceptive, and even criminal.
This Qi is available to everyone, so go with it. That's my basic "advice." Yang Fire represents a kind of energetic consuming quality—a vigor, vitality, passion, even aggression, and although we say “Fire melts Metal,” this does not necessarily mean conflict. Fire represents a kind of warmth/friction which softens the razor’s edge of the analytical mind (metal). While it can make reason and logic a bit blurry, it can also help us not to get fanatical about our logic.
What we do with this Qi is entirely up to us, depending on our Character. Ming likened the Qi of the year to a buffet. Yang Fire Monkey is all that is available, and we walk down the buffet taking what our appetite inspires. We all sit down to eat Yang Fire Monkey; some people belch, others fart, some get sleepy, some are inspired and energized, but everything was Yang Fire Monkey. Our own Qi Character is like our digestive system, and we will each digest Fire Monkey differently.
Yang Fire Monkey offers great potential for change, and I will leave it at that. If you really want to know more about Monkey Qi and your own Character, book a progression reading for next year, and we can talk.
I leave it up to you to contemplate what this means. Wisdom meets the Qi of each moment, discovers it in every step, and responds appropriately. Every Qi Character reveals our own Character to us in a different light. Monkey Qi is the opposite of Tiger, so for me the next year is the greatest opportunity for transformation and insight.
I am reminded of a story from Indian Astrology. In Indian Astrology, Saturn is the great depositor of Karma, the great limiter, and the source of our deepest difficulties and transformations. We go through 3-4 “Saturn Returns,” which few people understand and yet many talk about, and we also go through certain periods when Saturn transits the three houses around our Moon, called Sade Sati. Astrological jargon aside, this is supposed to be a time of great difficulty, and it is, but this is not wisdom. In one story, Śiva uses his Yogic power to hide on the bottom of a river from Saturn during Sade Sati. After, he emerges and is proud that he outwitted Śani (Saturn), but he learned nothing. During this time, Hanuman invites Saturn to sit on his head, after which he goes into battle, using Saturn’s power to fight demons and demi-gods. By the end of it, Saturn cannot wait to get away from Hanuman. And Hanuman is transformed into a pillar of strength and bravery. Long story short, the “moral” is that Hanuman’s wisdom came from embracing hardship as the source of his strength and transformation.
So it goes with all Astrology. Yang Fire Money Year will be profound the world over. The Goat Year has helped us to organize and has prepared us for social transformation the world over, and now here come the monkeys. With wisdom and courage we can ride Monkey Qi and change the world, for better or worse. Either way, I look forward to it. And thanks again Ming; you are missed.
Tiger's Play--the View Teachings of Chinese Astrology
This page is your source for short, pithy articles on the view teachings of Chinese Astrology. Here, I will share everything I have learned about how to follow Astrology as a spiritual path.