A famous Chinese story describes a contest set by the Buddha, or sometimes the Jade-Emperor of Daoism—a race to determine who would be the first Animal in the Cycle of Time. At the end of the race was a mighty river. Ox was the only animal strong enough to cross. Rat small yet clever jumped on Ox’s back and jumped off his nose just in time to cross the finish line first. Rat won the honor of first in the cycle, and the Character of Rat, Rat Qi, came to represent the wisdom, virtue (te), and resourcefulness of all things small.
Of the 12 Zodiac animals, some are small and some are large. The differences in size symbolize the Chinese view that strength comes in all sizes, and that every perspective is valuable and has a proper place. As a cycle of View Teachings, the 12 Qi Characters are a study in perspective and represent 12 (or really 60) ways of viewing the world. We find wisdom through learning our own perspective in contrast/relation to others. The tallest rat will never see the world in the same way as a Horse, so which perspective is correct? The question is of course meaningless—both are valid and describe different perspectives. Rat Qi represents the perspective of little creatures, the most “zoomed in” quality of life.
The Natural Element of the Rat is Yang Water—the power of the weak, the yielding, the adaptable, the soft, the pliant to overcome all obstacles, like water carving the Grand Canyon. Water may be weak, but through diligent perseverance it carves canyons, and in great mass, waves devastate. This is the Yang Water nature of Rat Qi—the paradoxical strength of weakness.
But do not let the image of smallness fool you, Rat Qi is anything by “mousy.” Rat Qi is definitely Yang, and the power of the Rat is ambitious and unstoppable like water. Yang Water also represents synthesis, sentiment, sensitivity, reflection, cooperation, persuasion, and effectiveness, among other virtues.
Of all the 12 Animals, I find people most dismayed to find out they are Rats. This is due largely to the image of the Rat as a rodent, a vermin, and a carrier of disease in Western culture. In Asian cultures, the Rat has a much different image, one that I would like to encourage.
The Rat of Chinese Cosmology was well known to farmers as the “Grain Rat.” Grain Rats would appear with the harvest, and so in Asia, the Rat has always been associated with prosperity, wealth, resources, and with the rewards of diligent hard work. In many forms of Asian Lore, the Rat is the God of Wealth, and Rat Years in Asia are considered auspicious and expected to be profitable in every sense of the word.
That being said, the symbol of wealth is important and often glossed over. People are all too quick to associate wealth with money, especially Americans. Understanding wealth, however, is essential to understanding Rat Qi. What is wealth? In short, wealth is resources—material, food, energy, land, intelligence, etc, and money is an abstract symbol measuring these tangible/demonstrable realities. And why are resources important to the Rat? Because they are tiny.
Individually, Rats are small and not very strong, and so they always appear in groups and work together to mange resources to their advantage. Together Rats can undermine an entire building by gnawing and nibbling away at the foundation piece by piece. For this reason, Rat Qi represents the fact that all humans must make alliances. Alone, we can’t do much, but together, we can accomplish anything.
In the Chinese View, individuals are pretty much redundant. It is only through alliances that we do anything. No person ever did anything great. Period. Our culture exalts heroes, saints, sports stars, and so on, but all sports heroes play on a team. So Rat Qi is the antithesis of American Individualism, for it views social life as central to existence and represents the human virtue of community in the most basic sense. Sociability is required to survive, and no person is special. This is a “Rat realization. Rat Qi, in a sense, stands for the little guy, the underdog, the meek, and the unacknowledged, and it abhors the abuse of the strong over the weak. The Character Piglet from Winnie the Pooh represents this virtue of the small, and there is a popular book on this very subject.
Because the Rat is small, it must band together with others, and it must value resources. Rat Qi represents a fundamental insight into the nature and value of “things,” appearances, stuff—the resources that compose the world. And in order to work with resources Rat must take them apart. Not to analyze (that’s Rooster), but to make it small enough to carry.
Rat Qi represents the most “zoomed in” quality to life—the Rat is very close to everything and sees how everything works, how everything is composed, sort of like a magnifying glass or microscope. The impulse to “zoom in” in order to understand is a Rat impulse. The impulse to take apart, dismantle, and dissect are also Rat impulses, again not to analyze but simply to observe, look closely, and take in the details. Modern science is very Rat, and I in fact know many Rat scientists. Academia, in general, is very Rat like, especially the kind that involves footnotes.
Rat Qi probes, inquires, and studies in order to make sense of the overwhelming amount of data we perceive through the senses. Rat power breaks everything down in to bite sized manageable pieces. This ability allows for incredible “productivity” in the Western sense, and as such, Rats are very capable.
A recent trip to India was mostly being organized by Tigers (myself included), and of course, like all things run by Tigers, we had great vision and inspiration but terrible follow through. As soon as our Rat friends Wendy and Kanika joined, all the pieces came together and everything, little by little, was organized. They made the trip happen in a way I could not even comprehend. For me, this was a great lesson in Rat Qi. Wendy saw everything in pieces and was able to manage the variables amidst the chaos of India.
Every Character has their place—Tigers need the little bits managed so they can be enigmatic, so they can shine and dazzle and then disappear. If things were left to Tigers, we would have amazing creative visions, but little would ever happen. Tiger Qi throws out a hundred big ideas, but Rat Qi narrows everything down to something we can actually do. Rat Qi makes the world go ‘round as a kind of engineering force discovered through observation and activated from of a kind of nervous compulsion. Rat Qi sees that everything is constantly falling apart, and someone needs to pick up the pieces.
Rats (the animals) tend to have big bulging eyes, and they make short, quick, twitchy movements. Rat Qi has a nervous quality due to its constant observation, evaluating safety, taking stock.
The observant quality of Rat Qi applies to all areas of life. Rat’s acute observation makes them incredibly studious, industrious, clever, and insightful. In essence, Rat Qi is the wisdom of the compound nature of things, that everything is composed of pieces ad infinitum. This wisdom communicates that everything compound is impermanent, which is the source of Rat’s power and fear.
Seeing into the compound nature of everything, Rat Qi seeks to work with reality as it is which can turn fear into insight. Yang Water when depleted clings when things fall apart, but when energized it can actively let go, Water representing dissolution and Yang being the active principal.
Rat Qi represents the beginning of the Cycle emerging from Pig Qi, which is why I began with Pig. If Pig represents complete dissolution, everything falling apart, Rat Qi represents everything coming back into fragments, still dissolute but active, the dust cloud settling, and everything coming back into focus, starting over. Pig is the final blowout, the party, the big bang, and Rat is left to pick up the pieces. Pig parties through the night, and Rat picks up the beer bottles and cigarette butts the morning after. Rat Qi can therefore manifest as a kind of hard boiled responsibility to “clean up” the world.
Rat Qi, embodied in individuals, is first and foremost charming. As astute social observers, Rats make fantastic actors, mimics, and they love being center stage, especially when they can play at being someone else. Other people are resources, so Rat charm is a kind of social power and is often their greatest resource in life. Rat Qi is fundamentally social/community oriented and cooperative but more in the sense of making things happen than out of pure enjoyment. That being sad, Rats are fun loving and funny, and they often possess a rye kind of wit derived from their social observations.
Rat Qi is and methodical and “detail oriented.” Many of the professions we value in our culture are very “Rat.” Engineering, accounting, “I-T,” consulting, what we can call information work, anything that requires manipulating data, money, or numbers, moving around bits and pieces, filling out spread sheets and forms—all of this is Rat work, busy work, and it goes to show that our culture actually exalts and highly values Rat Intelligence, which is incomprehensible to some Characters. Math and the sciences—chemistry, physics, biology, and western medicine are also very Rat like, what we can call reductionist disciplines.
Rat Qi revels in detail. And although I have mentioned science and math, Rat Qi can be wonderfully artistic. Rats can spend hours painting and penciling in details, focusing in and fleshing out pattern, shade, and texture. A famous architect once said, “God is in the details;” this is a very Rat sentiment. Shakespeare, in theory, was a Rat, and he invented thousands of words by taking existing words apart and putting then putting them back together in new formations, words like auspicious, sanctimonious, and multitudinous. Shakespeare also exemplified the poetic nature of Rat insight.
Rat Qi also exemplifies the Chinese Virtue of industry, diligence, and perseverance. Imagine you’re on a long journey and come across a mountain in your path. Some characters might go around; some might climb to the top heroically overcoming obstacles; some might wax philosophical and never go anywhere. Rat Qi might get a shovel and carve a path through the mountain one shovel-full at a time. You may laugh at such an approach, but Rat Qi can actually move mountains in this fashion.
At its best, Rat Qi is diligent and patient. Perhaps your family lost everything in a war, exiled to a foreign land with nothing. So the family bands together and starts a small dry cleaning business. For three generations the family perseveres and eventually builds back their fortune. This is Rat work ethic—eventually the little things pay off. Since Rats are famously discrete and frugal, they can manage resources, money, and make a little go a long way.
As you can imagine, the virtues of Rat Qi have their opposites. Rat charm and social observation can turn to nervousness and complaining, seeing endless faults and problems in themselves and others. Rat Qi can be self-conscious, worried about appearance, nit picky, and overly critical of details.
At its core, Rat Qi is very susceptible to the fear of impermanence, deficiency, and loss, which can turn to a panic over resources. This can turn to scheming, manipulating situations, people, things, money, and so on, in order to create safety, security. This can also turn to stinginess and selfishness, and Rats are often stereotyped as hoarders, living in clutter, developing strong attachment to possessions.
Rat can turn cowardly, afraid to take risks. Rats can easily become overwhelmed with details and so become paralyzed, over analyzing and never taking action. “But…wait!” is a very Rat response.
Rat Qi can feel small in a big scary world. Alone Rat Qi is vulnerable. Without a nest--resources, friends, partners, family, or a support system, Rats are at their weakest and can wander, felling lost and depressed.
Rat Qi when charged can be an immense ability to focus, but depleted, the close in quality of Rat Qi can turn fidgety, restless; it can turn to over-concentration and a racing mind, endlessly thinking, reevaluating, second guessing, a kind of mono-focus or tunnel vision that can obsess.
Because Rat Qi is fragmented, Rats have the ability to compartmentalize their experience. They can put memories, feelings, thoughts, emotions, and so on into categories and boxes. If traumatized, this compartmentalization can become detached, unemotional, and unable to connect to whatever they lock up.
The fundamental impulse of Rat Qi is to make sense of the world. Rat Qi represents active dissolution, characterized by Yang Water, what we can call “activated impermanence,” a primal fear which can easily turn spiritual, and I have met many Rats with a strong spiritual bent. Rat spiritual insight awakens through deep observation, breaking down appearances. Buddhist Logic, I find, is a very Rat like spiritual discipline, teasing, taking apart concepts and ideas in order to show their relativity.
This observant quality of the Rat is available to all of us every Rat Month, which is in the beginning of winter, every Rat Day, and every Rat Hour, which is between 11pm and 1am. Rat Hour is the most active part of the early night, a time when we dissect and tease apart the fragments of the day in dream.
I hope you enjoyed this exposition of Rat Qi. Stay tuned; in the next installment, I will explore the nature of Ox and Yin Earth.
The Chinese Tradition uses animals to communicate complex ideas and has since the beginning of their culture. The first important clan to take charge among the myriad tribes of East Asia was called the Bear Clan, and most tribal people associated with a particular animal as their Ancestral/Tribal symbol. Animals were a common part of everyday life; everyone was familiar with them, for certain animals have lived with humans since forever.
The Ox, for example, has been happily domesticated for over 12,000 years. So it is not a stretch to think of a person in terms of an Ox. The Ox Clan, perhaps, came from the swampy regions of southern China and was the first to domesticate the ox/water buffalo and so identified with them. The history of the Chinese Animal Zodiac is really a connection to our human nomadic, tribal, shamanic, and agricultural history which is far, far older than anything we know today. Humans and animals go together because humans are animals.
The Chinese Astrological vocabulary settled on 28 Animals to represent the constellations of their lunar cycle. For example, I am writing this on the day of the Leopard Constellation, and there was once a Leopard Clan. Among these 28, the Chinese eventually settled on 12 as iconic. These twelve animal characters eventually became the 12 Earthly Branches, which are well known throughout the world.
I have been reluctant to write about these because so much has already been written. Most books on Chinese Astrology cover the 12 Animals and not much else. And while most of these books are fine, they are often too general to be helpful, and they often focus on the Animals solely in terms of personality traits. I think I can do a little better.
I have already explained the significance of Qi Character in my New Year’s blog, so rather than repeat myself, I will simply jump in. And rather than focus too much on personality, my goal here is to describe the essential impulse that characterizes each of the 12 Animals as well as describe them in terms of human characteristics. Of course, I as a Tiger, so I interpret the 12 from a Tiger lens. But to the best of my ability, I would like to describe these as I have come to understand them.
I often describe Qi Character as a kind of impulse, a pattern, a set of tendencies that can manifest as a wide variety of personalities. Of course, not everyone born in an Ox year has the same personality. But Chinese Astrology would say everyone born in an Ox year would have the same character, meaning you all share something in common.
Each of the 12 Animals has 5 elemental flavors, which can make them quite different. The 5 Tigers, for example, are very different. So there are 60 all together. In order to get to 60 though, first we have to understand the basic impulse of the 12. If you want to know what makes your Elemental Qi Character unique, get an Astrology Reading.
Usually, the series begins with the Rat, but since that has been done to death, I would like to begin from the end with Pig in honor of Liu Ming, who was a Fire Pig. I was born under the House or Pig Constellation, so although it is not part of my Qi Character, Pig is my totemic protector and has a lot to do with who I am.
Pig (Hai) Qi
The Natural Element of Pig is Yin Water—dissolution, death, collapse, return, resolve, completion, the end, and in my eyes, it makes sense to begin with the end for the very reason that there is no end in the Chinese View. No start makes sense without stop. Liu Ming once described the Western notion of death as annihilation to his Daoist teacher, and he replied, “stop…you stop! Tell me, how do you stop?” In other words, the very meaning of Cyclical Time is that nothing stops, everything cycles, but things do appear to stop because they have to in order to appear to start, relatively speaking. And Pig Qi is the expression and character associated with this dissolution into “don’t know.” In order for things to appear fresh and new, they must appear to come from nothing, from “don’t know.”
Our fear of death could be allayed if only we could remember our Immortality, but if we had to remember our past lives, this life would seem an insufferable bore. So in the cycle of time Yin Water, Pig Qi, is the dissolution that allows for wonder and newness.
What is the nature of things as they fall apart and dissolve? Turns out, it’s a celebration. The Pig Character in the Chinese View, despite being characterized by Yin Water, by this dissolution, is the party animal. Pig is the party at the end of the cycle, the warmth of homecoming and the gathering around the hearth.
The Chinese written character for home includes the character for Pig, and of all the Characters, Pig is considered the most domestic, associated with the comforts of home. Wealth in Chinese culture was often measured by the number of Pigs you owned, for Pigs were the mainstay of the Chinese diet, along with cabbage and of course rice. Pigs are seen as “the great transformers,” able to turn garbage into sweet white meat.
The wild boar mother is considered one of the fiercest animals alive, for she is the only animal (besides humans) who will sacrifice her life for her children, hurling herself in front of Tigers and the like. As such, Pigs are considered the ultimate protectors, associated with the power and wrath of the feminine—the energy of momma bear, and originally the Pig was related to the Bear in Chinese Cosmology, associated with the Big Dipper and the House Constellation of the Northern Palace.
Pig Qi itself, embodied in human individuals, is this impulse to let go, to release all conceptualization (Metal) into direct experience through the senses (Water). In one sense, Yin Water represents emptiness, but it does so in the Buddhist sense as the emptiness of our concepts, not our direct experience. The experience of Pig Qi, then, is actually the fullness of life beyond conceptualization. Pig Character seeks fullness/completion through the senses. Our senses offer us the most direct experience of life; our body is how we know reality.
Pigs, then, see and experience everything material, physical, and manifest to the senses as art, as food, as the reason we come into being. If you were to ask a Pig—why are people born? They may respond—food! And this is not shallow. Perhaps the only reason the universe manifests is so you can enjoy the taste of ice cream. Losing yourself in the moment is a Pig moment.
If no one was looking, a Pig might lick a book rather than read it, and in doing so they would probably get just as much valuable information , for they are the most apt to understand reality through the senses. From the Pig Qi perspective, the complete experience of our senses is realization of the Dao because the senses generate the world.
Pig Qi sees the fullness of the manifest world as art, as food, as something to be devoured, savored, and enjoyed. Pig Qi revels in music, food, dance, clothing, painting, and the emotions/feelings they inspire. Pigs collect material items and derive great power/sustenance from them, for objects are not mere symbols but energy. Pigs, therefore, are sensuous Characters who make great chefs, artists, musicians, lovers, and parents/nurtures. Liu Ming was a great chef and devoted much of his life to food as art and medicine, at one point owning a restaurant and a catering company and later teaching Daoist Dietetics.
The key word for Pig Qi is honesty. The direct experience of our senses beyond thinking is a kind of honesty. We all wish we could let ourselves enjoy without guilt, but so many of us do feel guilty when we indulge. We overthink, justify, and strategize when it comes to our senses. We “treat” ourselves for hard work, as if enjoyment must be earned through suffering. Pig Qi is enjoyment without guilt. If we’re truly honest, we all want to eat and screw, and sometimes that’s just fine. This honesty manifests as plain-speaking, confessing to deep sensual desire, seeking simplicity. Enjoyment is human honesty.
Pigs Qi is blunt and to the point, yet it is also caring and compromising, like a grand-mother who wants to see everyone happy. This grandmother energy of the Pig is associated with the family, and Pig Qi is the very symbol of family life. As part of the “domestic trine,” alongside Goats and Rabbits, Pigs are often homebodies who would rather throw a barbeque and socialize than be alone and meditate. Pig Qi is gregarious; it enjoys people and relating to others, especially through enjoyment. So Pigs are often fun loving and fun seeking.
Because Pigs want everyone to be happy and enjoy themselves, they are among the most tolerant and accepting of Characters. Pig Qi (and Ox Qi) is the symbol of tolerance, and so Pigs are often very humanitarian, unselfish, and interested in human rights and dignity. Yin Water, the end of the cycle, has seen it all and done it all and so accepts everything in totality and just wants to have fun.
This accepting quality of the Pig is a form of generosity. Pig generosity would give you the shirt its back. As the end of the cycle, Pig Qi represents everything being let go of, given away. If a Pig had only one bowl of soup, they would most likely divide it up and give away spoonfuls so everyone could taste it. And they really want you to taste it and enjoy it in the same way they do. When describing themselves, Pigs may very well describe their favorite food, let’s say strawberries, and in tasting that strawberry, you taste them. Ming once described a fellow Pig he met travelling who kept a journal of all the desserts he tried in each country, for to him these tastes represented the quintessence of his experience.
This sensuous nature of the Pig is not stupid however. Pig Qi is the height of eloquence, for they experience words, ideas, and symbols too as food and art, and they revel in finding delicious ways to express and say things in the hope of evoking deep feeling in the body/heart. Liu Ming was like this; he was a gifted speaker, and his talks invoked deep experiential rather than conceptual understanding, as if his wisdom came directly from unmediated experience. Liu Ming was also a great comedian who spent most of his life giggling. Pig Qi is naturally funny, and their humor comes from their honesty. Being honest with ourselves about our selfish desires should make us laugh, and laughing at ourselves is high wisdom.
Pig Characters are naturally spiritual, for Pig Qi and Yin Water represent the fluidity, interconnectedness, emotion, and empathy associated with the profundity of chaos, death, and dissolution beyond reckoning. Pig Qi represents the headlong charge into letting go, giving everything away into direct experience. It represents the pure compassion of a wise grandmother, hosting the chaos of youth.
Pig Characters are often unstoppable and have a unique kind of aggression. Their fierce and protective character lends to a hardworking nature that stops at nothing to get what it wants. That being said, this struggle feels heroic to the Pig because they share the rewards of their struggle with others and give everything away for the greater good. Pigs often start out aggressive and end up heroes.
So far I have been describing the virtue qualities of the Pig, what Pig Qi expresses when it is charged and unrestricted. In astrology sessions, I usually describe the basic qualities of each Qi Character, followed by their elemental influence depending on the year, and then I usually finish by describing their challenges. When we are happy, harmonious, and healthy, we tend to express virtue qualities. When we are depleted, unhappy, and out of balance, we tend to express the more constricted qualities of our Character. Often the depleted Qi qualities are the inverse of each virtue.
Pig’s natural experience of the senses can lead to self-indulgence. The image of the Pig is often associated with overeating, and in our culture calling someone a “pig” is very specific. This revelation of the senses and the nature of Yin Water can lead to drugs, drink, risky sex, and depletion through hedonism and self-destruction.
The artistic and sensual nature can also become an addiction to comfort and luxury as well as a kind of flamboyance, spending money thoughtlessly on material objects and finery. This comfort seeking can turn to lethargy, laziness, and aimless loafing. Pig Qi is well represented by the character Pig-Pen from Charlie Brown, a disheveled kind of dust cloud associated with a lack of care.
The desire for material objects can also turn greedy towards a selfish secretiveness that strives to get what it wants so it can indulge.
The generous, accepting, and loving nature of the Pig can easily turn to gullibility. Pigs are the most likely to trust and can be easily duped, likely to give everything away to the first stranger with a sad story. Their honesty expects honesty, and so Pigs may believe everything you tell them. And they can be generous to a fault, giving everything away until they have nothing.
Pig tolerance can turn to long suffering abuse. Known as “great transformers,” out of all the Characters, Pigs (and Oxen) can take the most abuse and are likely to stay in bad situations for a long time, especially in domestic situations, and especially because they love so deeply and want to help their abuser. That being said, Pig Qi can handle anything without trauma because Yin Water lets everything go. The Great Transformer can turn any difficulty into enjoyment and humor, and Pigs are able to laugh at the most difficult situations.
Finally, the eloquence of the Pig can turn to what is commonly known as “Pig Headedness.” Pigs can be forceful, aggressive, argumentative, and can hold very strong opinions. Their honesty in speech can also get them into trouble, for they are likely to say anything despite the consequences. Liu Ming in his own words often “shot from the hip,” and he was quite ruthless in his straightforwardness.
Although I have described Pig in terms of characteristics, I want to insist again that this is Qi, which is time in Astrology. These descriptions and any of the 11 that follow represent the patterning and expression of Qi during specific time periods. These qualities of the Pig are available for everyone during Pig years, months, days, and hours. Pig Hour is between 9-11 pm and is the time for relaxation, sex, and sleep, all very “piggy” experiences. And this time of day naturally tends towards these activities; it is common for a party to begin in the Pig Hour, for example.
A person born during Pig Years and Hours naturally express these qualities, but Pig Qi is available to everyone.
I hope you enjoyed this exposition of the Pig. Stayed tuned for the next in the cycle when I examine Rat Qi.
Tiger's Play--the View Teachings of Chinese Astrology
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