Chinese Astrology and culture has a long-standing love affair with the Dragon, the mystical culmination of the Celestial Zodiac. During Dragon years, everyone in China tries to get pregnant. In the Chinese mind, the promise of a male Dragon son represents a potential for greatness unmatched in the other signs. For the Dragon has always been a symbol of the Emperor and the power of Heaven.
(To the Western mind, the Chinese preference for male children is, of course, problematic. A Fire Dragon daughter born in a small fishing village would have been considered too much trouble and would have most likely been “given back to the ancestors,” i.e. thrown down a well, and many Chinese families today still choose to abort Horse, Dragon, and Tiger daughters, especially the rebellious Fire types, for they are considered disruptions to society.)
I have been looking forward to and dreading my exploration of Dragon Qi. I was born in a Metal Dragon hour, so I am half Dragon, for the year and the hour form the primary image of someone’s Qi Character/Signature. Therefore, I am excited to explore and share with you part of my own Character. Like the Tiger, studying the Dragon has been a great source of personal revelation, and I hope I can offer some of the insight gained from my self-reflection.
When I first began studying this tradition, I did not account for Daylight Savings (a bane of Astrologers) and thought I was born in Snake Hour. Eventually, it occurred to me that some weird rule made up by Germans during WWI about setting the clocks back an hour was probably irrelevant to the Immortal Currents of Fate, so I shifted my chart back an hour and had to reassess my Character and Fate. An argument can be made that whatever the government writes down is your fate, which is a very Chinese idea. But, I have now done many readings in which the chart adjusted for Daylight Savings is clearly more accurate, including my own, so I stick with the adjustment.
I had convinced myself that I was half Snake, and it took a lot of self-reflection to accept the Dragon. I have always been quiet, introverted, and gentle. The powerful dynamic image of the Metal Dragon did not seem to fit, especially with my primary Character, the Tiger, which is a potentially catastrophic combination, sort of like strapping a rocket (Dragon) into a slingshot (Tiger) like Wile E. Coyote. But after a thorough study of the Dragon, I have come to accept this side of myself and embrace it as part of my potential, and I will share my expression of Dragon Qi as we go. Although I may be reserved/reluctant in my expression, I am not in my energy, and that was the difference—I was confusing nature with nurture.
Since a young age, I have learned to repress/suppress my energy in many ways, and I misidentified my Qi because of this. I now work to unleash my Dragon nature, within reason, for I have a ridiculous Qi capacity that, quite frankly, scares me. The only famous person I have encounter so far with a similar combination is Che Guevara, an Earth Dragon born in Fire Dragon Month on a Wood Tiger Day in a Fire Tiger Hour, which is a bit scary. I have an Earth Dragon friend born in Tiger hour, and he and I are basically the same dude. Fearing my own nature, I have worked very hard since I was young to manage it, because I recognized right away that it was potentially destructive, but like Che Guevara, it is also revolutionary. When I am at my best, the Dragon comes out, and I love this side of myself and, in many ways, prefer it to the Tiger.
I dread discussing the Dragon because it cannot be defined. Whenever I do readings for Dragons or Snakes, I throw my hands up and say “?!” As the mystical Yin-Yang culmination at the center of the Zodiac, the Dragon and Snake are defined by being ineffable, characterized by their unknowable quality, but in different ways. The Snake is Big Yin, emptiness, and the Dragon is Big Yang, fullness. The Snake represents the inner open capacity to become any of the other 11 without being them, but the Dragon actually is all 11 Characters embodied.
The symbol of the Dragon, then, is a synthesis. If you look at depictions of the Chinese Dragon you will see that it is a composite of every animal. According to tradition, it is said to have the whiskers of the Rat, the face and horns of the Ox, the claws and teeth of the Tiger, the belly of the Rabbit, the body of the Snake, the legs of the Horse, the goatee of the Goat, the wit (or brain) of the Monkey, the crest of the Rooster, the ears of the Dog, and the snout of the Pig.
The Dragon is the only animal of the 12 capable of flight, an important part of the symbol, and yet it is rarely depicted with wings, for its ability to fly is super natural. It is the only supernatural animal in the group, and people question its existence.
But the Chinese never questioned the existence of Dragons because everyone knew they were controlling the weather and water. Dragons were thought to be behind the clouds, causing storms, floods, and rain. If you could ride to the source of a great storm or flood, then maybe you could see one and earn the title “Dragon.”
The synthesis of all 11 into the supernatural Dragon represents infinite potential, which is the first and most important thing we can say about Dragons. Dragon Qi is said to have the qualities, capacities, and skills of all 11 and the power to express all or none of them if they choose, sort of like the 9 on the enneagram. The Dragon can choose to deny its potential, which is why Dragons need a path. Their infinite potential is meaningless to the Chinese unless it is turned away from selfishness and towards self-reflection, dedicated to the benefit of others.
Ming used to say that each Character is like a tool box with a specific set of tools/skills, but the Dragon tool box just has a Dragon in it. In other words, we don’t know what Dragons are for. They are a paradox outside the paradigm, and often they are an enigma to their friends and family. The Snake is an enigma even to themselves, but Dragons, while mysterious, are often very self-confident and assured, which is part of what baffles people about them.
Historically, the Dragon is a symbol of the Emperor and the Rising Sun to the East, the ruling power of Heaven from an unknown mystical origin. Because of their potential, Dragons were considered great leaders, capable of the biggest most inclusive view with the most compassion. So, it is easy to understand why the Chinese revere the Dragon and the Emperor.
There is a mountain of lore around the Dragon symbol, but let’s get into the Character. I will do my best to make this specific, but again, Dragons may be all or none of this, and the uncultivated Dragon may be a mess of everything all at once, unable to make sense of themselves.
The Dragon’s native element is Yang Earth, which is also shared by Dragon’s opposite, the Dog. They each express the virtues of Yang Earth in different ways. For the Dragon, Yang Earth represents flight—the ability to break away from the Earth, symbolizing the Dragon’s capacity to see and travel beyond. The Dog represents territory and the ability to intuit, cover, and protect the terrain.
Yang Earth represents manifestation, confidence, alliance, leadership, wealth, abundance, balance, caring, and power—yang expressions as opposed to the Yin aspects of Earth (nourishing, mothering, stabilizing, supporting, etc.) By nature, the Dragon has these capacities, but often has difficulty expressing them without training. And of course, each Elemental Dragon has their own challenges.
Dragons can have a difficult time expressing their greatness in a mature and grounded way because of the expansive nature of Dragon Qi. If there is one thing we can say about Dragon Qi—it is big, sometimes too big. Dragon Qi is pervasive and expansive. It is Big Yang exploding out into heaven, into the sky, seeking to fly beyond and above all boundaries. In myself, I feel this as an outward expanding “bigness,” hard to put into words. This bigness, in my view, is what tends to give Dragons characteristics we can talk about, which they otherwise transcend.
The transcendent quality of the Dragon makes them natural mystics, and often people with Dragon Qi are interested in spiritual occult traditions, especially those with extraordinary cosmologies. The way Dragons experience themselves and the universe is just too big for ordinary views. To me, Bruce Lee was the quintessential Dragon (Metal Dragon born in Earth Dragon Hour), and his life was a demonstration of the mystical power of Dragon Qi.
Dragons see through and beyond ordinary appearances like the Snake, but unlike the Snake, their powerful expansive Qi pushes them towards action. Dragons want to go beyond and actualize their potential, and they can go further than any other sign. If a Dragon chooses to leave the world, they will never be seen again; if they choose to embrace the world, they go into it deeply and lose themselves in the service of greatness.
So now we get into key words. And like last time, I am going to discuss the key words in charged/depleted pairs. Remember, each positive virtue of a Character has a flipside when we become depleted.
The first is strong or powerful. The Yang Earth Character of the Dragon has a strength unmatched by any of the other 11 Characters. Dragon strength is different than say Ox or Horse strength. Ox strength represents the capacity to carry, maintain, and endure, and horse strength represents the power to manifest, work, and accomplish, but Dragon strength is not related to any specific capacity and is better represented by the power of a great storm, the strength of nature unleashed. We marvel at the strength of nature, and we respect and fear its destructive side. The power of water, when harvested by a dam, can generate immense energy, yet uncontrolled, a tidal wave can demolish a town. We do not consider tidal waves evil, yet we mourn and fear nature’s destruction. In the same way, Dragon strength is immense, raw, wild and can be destructive, but like the dam it can be harnessed for good.
This strength, the explosive Yang, can turn to profound compulsiveness. Dragon Qi can be overwhelming, and Dragons can be a handful, bundles of energy that need channels in which to flow lest they flow everywhere. Like Tiger Qi, Dragon Qi has an explosive outward moving quality, symbolized by flight, that can propel Dragons toward uncontrolled action and reaction. This compulsive strength can be physical, mental, or emotional and can manifest as patterns of unruly behavior or speech, speaking freely and challenging everyone and every idea as a demonstration of power, especially Fire Dragons. In general, Dragons need an outlet where they can demonstrate their strength otherwise they will destroy themselves.
The strength of the Dragon feels very natural and becomes a kind of confidence, not necessarily social confidence but self-assuredness and confidence in view. Dragons know they’re right. Other Characters have this too, Roosters for example, but the Rooster arrives at confidence through analysis. The Dragon does no analysis; we’re born assured and cannot be convinced otherwise. I may whine and complain, but I know why I was born and the world just doesn’t fit into my plan; since I was born I have had a big grandiose vision. The problem is that nothing can live up to the Dragon’s vision, so it is hard for us to come back down to Earth. Dragons feel like they’re the rulers of the universe, masters of destiny, the most capable, the smartest, the best, and so on.
With training, we can be, but often, this self-assured confidence is over-confident and all talk, what we call “delusions of grandeur.” So, Dragons are often very selfish and “egotistical” in the ordinary sense. Dragons often feel like royalty, like everything should be given to them, like they’re already awesome and should be rewarded justly. We may even have low self-esteem, but that’s because people just don’t get how awesome we are, so it’s their fault not ours, or so we think. We can be attention hungry and expect others to acknowledge us regardless of what we do.
The Dragon can be so confident in their abilities that they never actually work to do anything. Often, we need big reality checks, to “eat humble pie,” and we need to put in the time and effort to master something. And when we do, this natural confidence in our abilities can be actualized and taken to great heights like Bruce Lee.
Dragons, therefore, possess a natural charisma. Something about their power, confidence, and ineffability becomes enigmatic and impressive to others. To me, Patrick Steward, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, a Metal Dragon and fantastic Shakespearean actor, is a great example of the Dragon charisma. He exudes a natural confidence.
Dragons are a mystery to others and defy labels. At their best, Dragons love showmanship and can be flamboyant and outgoing. I have never been outgoing in an extroverted sense, but when I am “unleashed,” put into a situation where I can demonstrate my abilities, I can be very charismatic and authoritative. Dragons often have big personalities, even if that personality is introverted.
The outgoing nature of the Dragon is based on a kind of ambition and adventurous spirit. Grand is the only scale Dragons work with. We have a big, broad, expansive, and inclusive vision, the capacity to see a panoramic picture. Philosophically, the Dragon has a view/insight no other Character is capable of and can fly out beyond the clouds. Dragons seek grand Peter Pan style adventure. Small goals and narrow ideas seem insignificant, unimportant—why bother?
Dragons have a tremendous capacity for fantasy and envision themselves to be great magnanimous beings; we take the whole “I want to grow up to be an astronaut” to ridiculous proportions. We may live in a fantasy world in which we are invincible and infallible. I have only ever been interested in big lofty spiritual goals and, sorry, nothing in this world can live up to my aspiration to be liberated for the benefit of all beings. A personal vision may not necessarily be defined, but Dragons feel destined for greatness. Living in the clouds, fantasizing of greatness, Dragons can appear aloof and distant, difficult for others to connect with.
On the flipside, we are unrealistic. Nothing can live up to the Dragon’s scale. It is hard for Dragons to sweat the small stuff, to pay attention to details. Dragons are a telescope looking out to the stars, not a microscope. We can be unrealistic with everything—our own abilities, our plans, our expectations of others.
Dragons are also dramatic. We can make a big deal out of small things because big is how we roll. When things don’t go our way, and when things fall short of expectations, Dragons are sarcastic drama queens. The feeling of bigness, too, can lead to being insensitive, blunt, and unconcerned with people’s feelings, except for our own, of which we “make mountains of mole hills.”
The power and self-assuredness of the Dragon can be assertive, willful, confident, dedicated, and demanding. Dragons demand the best from themselves and from others and tend to assert and insist upon their opinion, which is both a virtue and a challenge. To be a leader, one must be assertive and able to make decisions, and the Dragon is the most skillful leader and should not be put in subordinate positions. They thrive in leadership roles, but without feet on the ground, they can fly over the little guy. Once the Dragon has developed their heart, their assertive willfulness can accomplish greatness for better or worse, like Che Guevara.
If turned toward the spiritual path, this capacity to assert will power, to connect to the Yang expression of Heaven, can be unparalleled. A great example of this is the late teacher and Earth Dragon Swami Rudrananda, otherwise known as Rudi. His book, Spiritual Cannibalism, is a fantastic exposition of Dragon Qi applied to the spiritual path. Rudi had titanic willpower and dedication, and he taught people to essentially “eat” and be nourished by everything as energy, to become what Tantra calls a viśvaboghi, a digester of the universe. Unfortunately, not many people possess Rudi’s willpower and fall short of his example (this includes most of his students teaching today). Not everyone can live up to the Dragon’s vision, but he was inspiring nonetheless.
The final positive virtue I will offer of the Dragon is generosity. It may sound like Dragons have a lot of potentially challenging qualities, but we must remember that they have unlimited potential. The Dragon can display all virtues to the grandest scale. Dragon Qi is big and overflows all boundaries, which naturally turns to generosity. The flipside we discussed is selfishness, but the Dragon can give and demonstrate tremendous sacrifice for others. Of any sign, the Dragon is the most likely to die for others or for a cause.
I must reiterate again that Dragon Qi is a paradox that cannot be defined other than to say it is unlimited Yang creative potential. The qualities I have discussed are merely an attempt to discuss what happens when Dragon Qi is confined in human Character. Dragons can be anything or nothing if they choose, and they represent a culmination of the Zodiac, everything rolled into one, exploding out.
My Mantic Arts teacher, Liu Ming, wrote a book on the stages of human spiritual development called Dragon’s Play. In the book, the Dragon represents the twelfth and final stage of human life, the greatest expression of Yang Qi and human potential—the Rainbow Light Body, Ja lü in Tibetan, Prakāśakāya/Tejokāya in Sanskrit, and Hóngshēn in Chinese. In Daoist and Tantric cultivation, a practitioner of the Way is said to draw all of creation into their heart or navel creating a “cosmic egg/immortal fetus,” an expression of ultimate Yin, the return to Source. The result of Ultimate Yin turns to Ultimate Yang, which is the Dragon, ultimate freedom bursting from the Egg, light flowing freely and consciously into all dimensions, consciously becoming the Universe, which other people witness as a display of Light. The Dragon is the primordial gesture of the Dao itself, the demonstration of Source Qi’s power to become everything, which all humans are destined for.
This may sound fantastic, but of course, everyone, every Character has this potential too; it is not limited to Dragons. Dragons are just a symbol of our unlimited potential. Dragon Characters need a path otherwise this potential is meaningless. Above all, Dragons need training; we need a path, but we must never be controlled. Dragons must be left alone to follow their own way, or they will eat you.
Dragons, like Rabbits, exemplify the relationship between Character and Fate. An Earth Dragon born in the ghetto with no opportunity to demonstrate their leadership capacity might become a gang leader, go to prison, and be king inmate. A Dragon born without major obstacles and challenges will most like destroy themselves; their strength demands "big" Fate.
The Five Dragons each demonstrate a different flavor of Dragon Qi, the Wood Dragon (Laughing Dragon) being the most creative and light hearted, the Fire Dragon (Sky Dragon) the most challenging and explosive, the Earth Dragon (Yielding Dragon) the most grounded and regal, the Metal Dragon (Angry Dragon) the most powerful and articulate, and the Water Dragon (Rain Dragon) the most nurturing and mystical.
I hope you enjoyed this exposition of Dragon Qi. Stay tuned as I attempt to discuss the other ineffable Character, the mystical Snake, Big Yin, the sorcerer philosopher.
Hello Astrology Fans! I have finished a month long retreat/training in Traditional Kuṇḍalinī-Hatha Yoga, which I am excited to share, and I am sitting here in a café in Chiang Mai, Thailand, also excited to continue my Blog. I apologize for the long silence, but such is the nature of retreat. When last we left off, I explored the Character of Tiger Qi, which is my own Character. As promised, we now move forward as Tiger changes to Rabbit.
Like the Ox, I feel close to Rabbit Qi, for so many of my friends were born in the Lunar Year of 1987, the Year of the Fire Rabbit.
Rabbit Qi opens us into a dimension of experience we have not yet explored, a dimension unique among the 12 Animals—what we can call “intuition.”
When studying the cycle of 12, we must remember that each Animal transforms into the next in a meaningful, although non-linear, way. The cycle is a whirlwind, centripetal and centrifugal, a tornado of energy, which flows in a kind of lopsided pattern.
If the Ox represents strength, tolerance, and continuity, and the Tiger represents an escape from continuity, through rebellion, creativity, and change, then the Rabbit represents the result of the Tiger’s impulsive revolutionary bluster, which is a kind of raw, open, vulnerable sensitivity, represented by the Rabbit’s native element—Yin Wood.
Yin Wood is innocence, spontaneity, flexibility, renewal, humility, gentleness, sensitivity, subordination, and potentiality. While Yang Wood represents a naïve impulsive force to come into being, Yin Wood demonstrates the outcome of that force, which is exposed, raw, tender, but with great creative potential, like a sprout emerging from the earth, ready to grow into a mighty oak. The Tiger represents the brave and daring impulse of the sprout to arise at all into the danger of the world, and the Rabbit is the tender shoot needing protection and nurturing to thrive.
The Tiger represents a necessary rebellion against stagnation, and the insight of the Rabbit understands that rules (Ox) must have intuition if they are to be free of stagnation. Revolution cannot be sustained (hence the Tiger’s struggle) and should end with a refreshed look at things, and we call this the Rabbit.
The Rabbit sees into and understands the Tiger’s rebellion with a kind of empathy that is beyond the Tiger’s grasp, which is why it is the natural outcome of Tiger Qi. The mystical state (Tiger) needs heart (Rabbit). When this succeeds, the outcome is the Dragon, which is unlimited potential.
In the Chinese View, the qualities of the Rabbit are best described by the term “Lunar,” and the history of the Rabbit as a symbol comes from the Moon. The Chinese call the Moon Tai Yin, which just means Great Yin, so Rabbits are obviously very Yin. When the Chinese look at the Moon, they see a Rabbit. Americans see cheese, or something, but the Chinese see a Rabbit. In other words, Rabbits are lunar creatures; they come from the moon and are seen as manifestations of moonlight.
Rabbits were, therefore, revered, and it was considered very bad luck to harm or eat them. It is surprising how rarely they were eaten, since the ancient Chinese ate nearly everything else. This says something very important about the Rabbit—that they should be protected and revered for what they offer. Daoist alchemists saw the Rabbit as being/producing an elixir of longevity, a nectar from the bardo of night turning to day, from mist and moonlight. The Rabbit, therefore, became of symbol of the inner world, or Nei, associated with Nei Dan or Nei Gong, the practices of Internal Alchemy.
The Rabbit rules the dawn, from 5 am to 7 am, and these Lunar creatures are most active during this crepuscular hour. To understand Rabbit Qi, simply take a walk in the woods at 6 am. The energy is gentle, vibrant, soft, and transparent. For the dawn is a time of transition. Light emerges, and we awake, emerging from the subconscious, and dreams cross into our waking reality.
The lunar image of the Rabbit represents their strong need to escape the light of day, their fear of confrontation, a symbol of the delicate, sensitive, and vulnerable nature of Rabbit Qi. And while this may sound “weak” to some, the Chinese Tradition insists that weakness is very important. Some Characters are strong; some are weak, and each contributes something very important to society.
Traditional Chinese Medicine diverged from Roman Medicine based on this very principal. Around the turn of the Common Era, the main form of medicine around the world was bleeding, which was a very strong treatment that often killed the weak. Romans responded by saying, “good; the weak are unworthy Roman citizens.” The Chinese, on the other hand, said, “wait; perhaps weak people are sensitive and have something to offer society that strong people overlook.” So the bleeding needles became smaller; the treatments became weaker, and according to some, acupuncture developed as a natural outcome of earlier more forceful bleeding treatments.
(Side note—at the turn of the Common Era, the Chinese were already well aware of circulation, whereas the Romans had special chairs that leaned to tip your blood out; the West did not discover circulation until quite recently by comparison. In my opinion, our medicine is still very Roman.)
The instinct to preserve sensitive people is a Rabbit instinct, and Chinese Medicine is “sensitive” or weak medicine and proud of it. Western Medicine is “strong,” and sees nothing strange about hack-sawing people’s sternums open and pulling their lungs out. Nor do they see anything wrong with poisoning people as the main form of treatment (pharmaceuticals). In my eyes, the Rabbit is a symbol of Chinese Medicine, for it represents the sensitive, intuitive, and gentle approach to life.
Energetically, the Rabbit is submerged in the “subconscious” stream flowing beneath everything, a mumbling dialogue our energy has with itself, a constant flow of imagination, and a smooth flow of emotional response going on all the time. Rabbits are like an exposed wire, picking up on signals invisible to the rest of us. This raw exposed quality has many interesting manifestations in terms of Character, but before we discuss these in key terms, we must look deeper into the symbol of the actual animal itself—think bunnies.
The Rabbit or Hare is very small and soft, and they’re not predators capable of defending themselves, so they hide, a symbol of their fragility and paranoia. They are the prey, and anything can come to eat them. They often live in burrows or bushes, a symbol of being beneath, hidden, submerged in the subconscious stream, protected from the light. The burrow also represents the Rabbit’s “nesting instinct,” which manifests in their need for safety and security. They have big sensitive ears, like satellites picking up on frequencies all around them. They live in communal families (Water Ship Down anyone?), a symbol of their social nature and of the importance of relationships to Rabbit Qi. Finally, despite their delicate appearance, they have powerful hind legs and are capable of being absolutely vicious if back into a corner. All of these symbols will become clear as we go through the key terms.
That being said, in order to understand the Rabbit, we must understand its social instinct, which we call “dependent.” Above all, Rabbit Qi is vulnerable yet profound in its intuitive capacity, so Rabbits seek safety, protection, alliance, and stability in the form of “home.” When the Rabbit feels safe, secure, and has a tribe/circle of close friends, or a strong protector/partner, or they own their own home, then they shine; they become the Dragon—powerful and dynamic leaders with insight and heart, capable and successful. If Rabbits have strong sibling or parental guardians, they can learn their power early in life. If they are hurt or alone they close off, put up armor, and their intuitive gifts are often repressed and come out as defensive and vicious.
Not only do Rabbits need good protection as children, but they need an environment that nurtures their intuition. A Rabbit child may be sitting in math class and start channeling spirits from the hills behind the school, drawn to go outside or sing or paint. Instead, they get told to shut up, sit still, and listen. They then internalize and go into their own world, unable to cope with math class. Distracted, they get a D and get told they're stupid. If this happens enough, a Rabbit can close off and not recover their intuition until much later in life if ever.
So the first key term is gentle. The gentle quality of Rabbit people is not always apparent, especially with Fire Rabbits, and this has a lot to do with their childhoods, family circumstances, and current relationships. In their nature though, Rabbits are sweet, kind, nice, and peace loving. Most Rabbits I meet, or people born in Rabbit Hour, have a good natured sweetness to them that I find immediately apparent, but sometimes this sweetness is lying under the surface and comes out only after they trust you.
Conversely, at their worst, Rabbits turn vicious. Energetically, they are like bunnies, so people think they can do anything they want to them or in front of them. They are more often than not the victims of trauma and abuse. Because of their sweet and timid nature, Rabbits can remain frozen, scared, and take abuse for a long time until it becomes intolerable, in which case they often lash out and end their abuse/suffering in vicious and violent ways. I often say, hell hath no fury like a Rabbit scorned. Ming used to say, “Watch out for those hind legs!” When they’re hurt, Rabbits have a potential for darkness far beyond the other signs.
Rabbits are usually quiet by nature, for they are always listening and can’t help it, which is symbolized by the big ears. Rabbits feel at home being hidden, quiet, listening to the ethers. Ming was once interpreting for a Tibetan Lama when a student came back from retreat. The Lama asked, “How was your meditation?” The student replied, “It was amazing; by the second month, my mind was so quiet, I could hear the thinking of the people in the town below me!” This is a very Rabbit response…now I can hear everyone!
On the flipside, being quiet and humble by nature can turn to being a gossipy chatterbox. Rabbits can have a profound capacity for talking, which comes from being slightly nervous all the time. Relaxed and in their power, Rabbits feel no need to speak and are natural listeners, but when out of their element and vulnerable, they tend to speak uncontrollably, trying to get a handle on the situation. I recently met a 5 year old Metal Rabbit, who although sweet as could be, was so skittish and nervous that he never stopped asking questions, as if trying to understanding everything and pin down his environment. Furthermore, since Rabbits are socially dependent in nature, they can use speech and gossip as a tool for manipulation, talking people up and down in order to gain advantage. Rabbits hate confrontation of all kinds, but when back into a corner, they can retaliate with the nastiest most hurtful vitriol you have ever heard.
The positive flipside of this, then, is that Rabbits can be incredibly sweet, supportive, and loving. Rabbits, by nature, are supportive and caring friends, partners, lovers, and parents. The Rabbit is perhaps the most “domestic” of the 12 Animals. Rabbit Qi seeks to nest, to nurture, and to create a loving and supportive environment in which they and others can thrive. I can’t tell you how many Rabbits I know who have become kindergarten/elementary school teachers.
From birth, Rabbits possess a strong social drive to create family and friendship, to bond with others and create tribe/clan, and to belong to and feel part of a group or community. In their hearts, they are not loners, although when in pain they can hide from the world as not to be seen or hurt again. When Rabbits find their home, their tribe, they thrive and become great leaders or successful entrepreneurs. Empowered, Rabbits are among the most authoritative and confident of the 12 Animals, which is how Rabbit turns to Dragon.
Early in life Rabbits often seek a stable base to get “security” taken care of. They can often appear very independent to others, but as soon as they have a protector, a guardian, a home base, something to rely on, they lose their independent nature and become dependent so they can let their other gifts, which need support, come forward. To others, the Rabbit can appear deceptive and lazy, but this is a very lopsided “American” understanding—that everyone needs to be a rugged independent individual. Rabbits yearn to let go of their independence to merge with family, friends, lovers, and so on, in order to offer their big squishy hearts. Others often become dependent on them for nurturing and emotional support, which is part of the Rabbit gift.
Rabbits have a powerful even mystical connection to objects, especially those related to the home—furniture, clothing, cookware, and so on. They love to “feather their nests” and often collect material possessions. They derive nourishment from things/stuff. A Rabbit will make home wherever they go. Travelling, they may bring their power objects and set up a cozy warm environment in a hotel room for the night (Pigs do this too).
This connection with objects is related to the Rabbit’s heightened sense of aesthetics. Rabbits are creative designers with a natural sense of Feng Shui, the auspice of placement. This aesthetic sensibility lends to a deep appreciate into the nature of beauty, which offers artistic depth to the Rabbit sweetness.
Rabbits are naturally intuitive and empathetic. We can also call this subliminal or subconscious. Rabbits are like a radar dish; internally they are open receivers. Rabbits can walk into a room and can immediately feel everything going on. They can sense everyone’s mood, their body language; they intuitively perceive all the unconscious signals people put out through their “energy.” A Rabbit might actually see your Aura.
Obviously, this has positive and negative consequences. Positively speaking, Rabbits have an unusual capacity to feel, to empathize, and their intuition, when properly trained, gives them tremendous emotional intelligence and insight into others/the world.
On the other hand, it is very easy to mistake intuition for wisdom—they are not the same thing. There is a lot of “static” in the universe, most of which is just psychic garbage floating around. The subconscious ethers, the invisible world of ghosts and spirits, the hum of negative habitual emotional facilitation that people emit all the time without knowing it—Rabbits feel all of this more than the other signs. If their vulnerability is exposed to too many influences, their intuition can go haywire from too much “noise.”
Rabbits cannot shut down their intuition. They really should not live in cities, places where there is too much activity, data, noise, pollution, people, and so on. If the apartment building they live in has too much thinking, they can go crazy and not know why. This sensitivity is often embodied, which can lead to all kinds of allergies. They can be affected by minute changes in the weather. In general, they should live somewhere dull.
It may seem unusual to channel a nature spirit, but actually it isn’t. A Rabbit may easily go into a trance and channel a nature spirit, and others may think this is profound, and Rabbits may think so too. But anyone who has seen into the spirit world can tell you that it is absolutely full of useless, dumb, confused, greedy, and hungry spirits milling around all over the place that will appear as anything in order to feed on your Kidney Qi. It may seem “special” to be a trance medium, but actually, you’re just lunch. It is, of course, possible to be a wise medium, but this takes a lot of training, which is the purpose of Daoism. Daoism is basically ritual training to manage the spirit world. Rabbits are natural Daoists, and should receive this training early on, so they don’t become lunch.
Practically speaking, Rabbits are often lunch for other people. Just like most disembodied spirits are looking to feed on others, so are most people who are not self-possessed. Rabbits are easy prey to aggressive people looking to dominate and feed on others. Because Rabbits want to merge and depend, they easily attach to the wrong people. Relationships of all kinds are crucial for the Rabbit. They need training to be self-possessed, and they need to be very careful about who they choose to let in. If a healthy Rabbit lets you into to their world, you should feel blessed, because they are the greatest support.
The receptivity of the Rabbit makes them the most susceptible to paranoia, schizophrenia, anxiety, nervous disorders, and so on. Rabbits can be scattered, twitchy, and they can constantly feel threatened. Rabbits need training in their emotional intelligence from an early age, otherwise they can become “weird,” even crazy. In traditional terms, they are the most susceptible to possession, for they hear the voices of the Ancestors, and can perceive ghosts/demons more than other signs, especially as children. If they have good training, they make amazing counselors, teachers, guides, social workers, and they love serving and supporting others.
The Rabbit’s health and well being has everything to do with how they handle their emotional facilitation. An uneven flow of emotion is the ground of all their illness and compromises their immune system. If they undergo surgery, for example, and the nurse says something terrible before they go under, there will be complications in the surgery. If they feel that the surgeon “understands them,” the surgery will go perfectly no matter what happens. It is important to understand that Rabbits do not “think” this way; it is the nature of their Qi. They’re vulnerable.
Rabbits possess an amazing social charm; they can be incredibly seductive and sexy, mesmerizing and alluring, and they can appear as a kind of “prize” to others wanting to “catch” them. This skill comes from their social instinct, and at their best, Rabbits bring out the best in others, bringing people together and inspiring them. At their worst, this social skill is opportunistic, and they use their charm to gain advantage over others socially.
They can manipulate and control others, especially with their sexuality. Rabbits are by nature one of the most sexual signs (Rabbits can reproduce like crazy in the wild), and they can use their sexual power as a tool of leverage over others as another way to gain security. The need to be safe, if driven unconsciously by fear, can turn Rabbits into superficial snobs who will do anything just to secure a partner or good social standing.
Rabbits are by nature full of love; they are diverse and accepting of everyone. They are unique in their emotional intelligence and empathy. And their intuition is a beautiful gift. Anyone born during Rabbit Hour as well has this capacity.
Rabbits also teach us a lot about the central relationship between Character and Fate in Chinese Astrology. Rabbits have amazing potential, and yet they’re delicate and have no built in “muscle,” so their blooming in life is very dependent upon the circumstances of Fate. If a Rabbit has good fated relationships with partners, family, and Feng Shui, then they bloom. If their relationships are haunted, then they tend to be held back and can become very self destructive. If Rabbits are hurt or feel unsafe, they will do anything including take their own life. Rabbits have the potential to go darker than any other sign, which most people do not want to talk about, but I will say it again: hell hath no fury like a Rabbit scorned. So Fate for Rabbits is very important. Rabbits also bloom when they have modest or gentle fate. A Rabbit born with big Fate to be president is most certainly an affliction.
Free of Fate, Rabbits can most certainly go into the category of mystic and have a tremendous capacity for self-cultivation.
In terms of the Five Rabbits, Wood Rabbits are the most natural and the most vulnerable, probably the sweetest and most sensitive of all 60 signs. Fire Rabbits are the most independent, stubborn, and angsty—the teenage Rabbit. Earth/Metal Rabbits are the most mature, secure, and stable, the least Rabbity Rabbits. And the Water Rabbits are beyond profound, mystical, yet they are perhaps the most troubled and paranoid.
Hopefully, this gives you a window into the depth of Rabbit Qi, the stream beneath appearances. Stay tuned, as Rabbit turns to Dragon, the mystical synthesis of the Zodiac.
I have read a number of popular books on the Chinese Zodiac, and I can usually tell the Character of the author. However, I have never read an author who admits their Character upfront, which is strange to me. Personal Astrology is usually considered private, and people are often discrete when discussing it in traditional cultures, but not usually among family and friends, for it is considered an essential guide to relating. Most writing on the Chinese Zodiac is, to me, impersonal, and descriptions are usually lopsided. Writers often exalt or diminish certain animals based on their personal Character’s bias.
Personally, I see Astrology as a tool for self-reflection. Any consideration of Astrology begins with the study your own Character and Fate. I can only understand the 12 Animals through my primary Character—the Yang Fire Tiger, and I display this Character until death; it is my capacity to resolve Fate/Karma.
The Tiger relates differently with each animal. In other words, no description of the 12 Animals can be fair or equal, for they do not relate equally. The 12 Animals are patterns of Qi, and some match like a Phillips Head Screw and Screwdriver. Others may relate to one another like dialing a cell phone with a sledge hammer, or as the saying goes—like a square peg in a round hole. So I am up front about my Astrology; I have even published my birth time. To a Monkey (Tiger’s opposite), my way of life may seem like a sledge hammer.
I am a Fire Tiger. Therefore, this exploration of Tiger Qi will be fundamentally different than my other expositions, because this one I know from the inside out. And remember, the Year is primary in a person’s Qi Character. I cannot help that this is personal, perhaps even emotional, for understanding the Tiger has been a tremendous source of personal revelation. I imagine that other Tigers will resonate with this, but perhaps not. Hopefully, my personal experience does not get in the way too much.
Although the Chinese love the Tiger, it is in many ways the antithesis of China. It therefore holds a special place in Chinese Cosmology. For the Chinese always welcome chaos because no healthy society can function without destruction and renewal.
In my last blog on the Ox, I mention that the Ox is a symbol of China, and the Tiger is a rebellion against everything the Ox stands for, energetically speaking. In the Cycle of Time, Ox Qi transforms into Tiger Qi. If Ox represents the stability, continuity, tradition, and consistency of Yin Earth, the Tiger, whose nature is Yang Wood, represents a forceful breaking away from all these qualities, for Wood eats/destroys/controls Earth in the Five Element Cycle.
In order to understand Tiger Qi, we must understand its Native Element—Yang Wood. Yang Wood is the first element in the cycle, which is why the Tiger Moon coincides with the Chinese New Year and the first day of Spring.
Yang Wood is the fresh, dynamic, naive, innocent, pliant, new, unformed, spontaneous, impulsive, and forceful arising of movement from complete stillness. Yang Wood is invisible, pure; it represents birth, initiation, renewal, potentiality, creativity, and adaptation. Force arising from stillness—this is the Tiger. Imagine a cat, still and unmoving, pouncing on their pray.
Like all the Animal Characters, the Tiger has many layers, both historic and symbolic. These symbols hold the key to understanding each animal, in this case the Tiger, as a pattern of Qi in the Cycle of Time.
Historically, the Tiger is the most successful predator of humans, and conversely, humans are the only successful predator of Tigers. At one point, there were millions of Tigers in Asia. Many of the earliest recorded human remains were found with the bones of Tigers, which has puzzled archaeologists for years. They’re not sure who killed whom.
In the Han Dynasty, the number one cause of death among peasants listed in medical records (besides war) was Tigers. They roamed freely and would wander into villages at whim, eating anything that came in their path. In short, Tigers disrupted orderly society (as do Tiger People), which is why they’re the antithesis of China.
The Han Government waged war on Tigers, and in less than a century they murdered over 3 million of them. This trend continued, which is why the Tiger came close to extinction in Asia but has since been coming back.
Famous Generals were depicted wearing Tiger skins as a symbol of their fearlessness in battle. Killing a Tiger earned you the title “Tiger.” The Chinese character for Tiger depicts a bow drawn and about to fire, implying a long history of hunting Tigers.
We can call the early religion of China “Animistic Shamanism,” which later became Daoism. Rural and tribal religion was officiated by Shaman Priests who were great arbiters of the Spirit World. Today they are known as “Red Hat Daoists.” “Black Hat Daoists” are the Orthodox Priests who uphold the more official lineages.
Alive, Tigers presented great threat, but dead they were considered the most powerful spirit protector. Part of the war on Tigers, then, was to “put them on the other side,” so to speak. After the systematic murder of Tigers, Shaman priests would work to command Tiger Spirits. Zhang Dao-Ling, the founder of Orthodox Daoism, is depicted riding a Tiger, symbolizing his command of the Spirit World.
This trend is also found in Tantra, for Tigers were just as common in India, and great Tantric Masters and Deities are often depicted sitting on Tiger skins, wearing Tiger shawls, using Tigers as pillows, and so on. This symbolizes that a practitioner has conquered their fear and impulsiveness. Tiger Qi is considered the Wisdom of Fearlessness and the Victory over Danger.
Still to this day, it is common in China to write the Chinese symbol for Tiger on doors or amulets in order to ward off fire, theft, illness, and possession. The Tiger is a symbol of exorcism, dispossession, power, and warriorship. In many Martial Art traditions the Tiger is depicted with the Dragon in a Yin-Yang Symbol. Tigers (such as myself) born in Dragon Hour are considered to have adept potential to be Shaman/Warriors and should receive training very early in life.
This may sound impressive, but the Tiger Character is complex and not easy to understand. I often say—it isn’t easy being a Tiger. So before delving into the Key Terms, we must backup and examine the primary symbol of the Tiger—its stripes. The Tiger is striped. Tigers wish they could be lions or panthers (i.e. one color), but we cannot; we have stripes, and this symbolizes a fundamentally dual nature, which Tigers seek their whole lives to reconcile.
This dual nature comes from Yang Wood. Yang Wood is pure impulse. So the first and most important thing we can say about Tigers is that they’re impulsive, which causes a kind of alternating or lurching quality symbolized by the stripes.
The impulse of the Tiger is always to change, to break free, to innovate, to create, to destroy, to jump headfirst. Tigers feel the full force of primal energy with startling intensity. By nature, this impulsive lurching often causes inconsistent and unreliable behavior, which confuses others.
This behavior is often perceived as aggressive—the Tiger needs to hunt. But really, Tiger Qi is in a constant intimate interaction with its surroundings, deeply sensitive, drawing all other energies into it, alert to minute changes, moods, emotions, ready to pounce in an instant. Even when resting, we are like a loaded weapon. Without challenges, we can be champion loafers, lazy housecats, but we are always primed to jump and knock things over.
Tiger Qi is very physical; we need to use our bodies. By nature, Tigers possess strong constitutions and boundless energy, which can express complete stillness, meditative equipoise, and an immense physical capacity, vitality, and endurance.
Tiger Qi is fully present, ready for action, but it is naïve; Wood Element is always naïve. Liu Ming told the story of a Tiger running through the jungle, leaping over obstacles—suddenly, the Tiger leaps off a cliff. Halfway down, the Tiger realizes—oh, I’m falling! In other words, Tiger Qi lurches, jumps eagerly into danger, and often doesn’t realize its mistakes until too late.
Our stripes, our impulsiveness, make us difficult for others to understand. The stripes denote a powerful need to act, to connect, to be in the world, to love, and at the same time to run away, to hide, to be still, and to be alone in our caves.
Tigers are solitary animals. They are independent and need huge territories in which to roam. By nature, Tigers are hard to pair up with, so Tiger Characters tend to pair with other Tigers. In the wild, Tigers mate and then go their separate ways. If there are too many cubs born, the parents may actually kill a few as not to encroach on their hunting territory.
Tigers are pillars of strength and capacity, but then they disappear. They can be the life of the party, and then you may not see them for three months. We often jump full force into things, and then abandon them, and then we must abandon our abandoning, and so on. I cannot tell you how many times I have done this. We’re always changing, never consistent, but this is actually our power.
Yang Wood is spontaneity, creativity, and innovation. We may not be reliable, but we can change things, break the mold, think outside the box (although we’re not very practical and have a hard time making our creativity actually manifest).
Tiger Qi rebels against everything no matter what; we hate to be confined, and we hate expectations. This rebellion is impossible to control and can only be handled with our own self-discipline. We have to see outside ourselves and choose self-discipline. The Tiger finds their Qi power when fear becomes transparent and their power turns to natural discipline and leadership.
With training, Tigers make tremendous warriors, soldiers, fighters, shaman; they are heroic and noble defenders. Without training, the impulsive force of the Tiger can be disastrous, manifesting as intense anger and frequent losses of temper. Violence is the most available in the Tiger (also in Dragon, Horse, Pig, Rabbit), for some of the Characters must be willing to fight, and all Tigers need to recognize this part of them and accept it in order to be whole.
The influence of Tiger Qi is powerful; Tiger’s have a magnetic, hypnotizing quality, and they are often charismatic, dynamic, and innovative leaders and great orators. That being said, their inconsistency and unreliability dictates that they should not be in charge. Tigers are meant to inspire, dazzle, and then disappear. They are exemplars of power, action, and creativity.
Out of all the animals, Tigers, Goats, and Monkeys are considered the most creative and artistic (of course everyone can be artistic). Tiger Art is very “Jackson Pollock,” very modern. The impulse to splatter paint on a wall and call it art in order to break convention is a Tiger impulse. Yang Wood is imagination and an immense appetite for knowledge, information, and expression.
Because of our stripes, our impulsiveness, Tigers are seen to have the greatest capacity for self-destruction. The alternating quality of our stripes and our forceful internal impulse can cause great inner conflict and turmoil, and we can be our own worst enemies. It is hard for Tigers, with our unpredictable, impulsive creativity and strangeness, to find a place in the world, to accomplish anything and remain consistent, which goes against the grain of ordinary culture that expects us to get a job and be the same person all the time. We rebel, and without the proper environment and support we self destruct.
Tigers need unconditional acceptance, love, and tolerance. This is why Pigs are a great support, for they are the most tolerant. Oxen, too, are quite tolerant. Others need to know that we will always “let you down” if you expect constancy from us. It may sound harsh, but the only way Tigers can be in relationship is if others manage to not need us. We will do our best and need training in this regard, but we will most likely show you our stripes.
Because of the Tiger’s dual nature and tendency towards inner conflict and self-destruction, they tend toward great spiritual awakening. Many Tigers become mystics hell bent on the spiritual path, seeking the reconciliation and union of their opposites. Many Tigers become famous spiritual teachers, many of which have been an inspiration to me. My personal favorites—Alan Watts, Thomas Merton, Walt Whitman, Namkai Norbu, my Guru—Dharma Bodhi, Alan Wallace, and Adyashanti to name a few. I always recommend that everyone “google” famous people born in their year for inspiration.
Tiger Years can be explosive, bold—a time of extremes when life is experienced on a grand scale, with drama and excitement. The classics say—expect political rebellion and military coups.
So now we get to the Key Words. The first are courageous, daring, brave. Tiger Qi, again, represents fearlessness, a kind of Samurai mentality, hurling into danger, charging into the unknown, seeking adventure. This courage comes from a deep flirting with death in the core of our being, for Yang Wood emerges from death (Yin Water). This courage lends to being strong-willed, seeking to conquer the fear of death, and despite our impulsiveness, Tigers have famously terrifying will power, usually to accomplish or study strange and unusual things.
Tiger Qi is energetic, passionate, and enthusiastic. The force of Yang Wood is both physically and mentally expressed in the Tiger. Physically active, even hyperactive, Tigers can be balls of energy, freely expressing themselves in all kinds of uncontrollable ways, which is why they need self-discipline early in life. Discipline forced upon them will most likely be rebelled against.
Mentally and energetically, this unstoppable energy bubbles forth as enthusiasm and dedication. Tigers usually get really, really into things and champion what they love. If you’re around me for more than a minute, you will undoubtedly hear me ramble about the Dharma, Astrology, Chinese Medicine, and so on, and I don’t shut up. Once we love something, or someone, we become incredibly dedicated. However, this dedication rarely leads to mastery, unless we can direct/focus our will, which is part of our challenge.
Tigers are by nature unconventional, free-thinkers, who never conform. We have to do things differently and in our own way. Our mission is to break convention, shatter expectations, destroy boundaries, and forge new ground. I admit this is not easy for others or for us. But Tiger Qi is pure inspiration, fresh and new.
This unconventionality goes hand and hand with imagination and creativity. Tigers are natural poets, musicians, and artists. Walt Whitman, to me, is a fantastic example of the Tiger’s creative expression. I have dedicated huge amounts of energy towards creative expression—music, writing, art, astrology, mediation; at my best, I feel like an inexhaustible well. Of course, I have abandoned everything at some point and made no “career” out of my endeavors, but I’m trying to put it all together.
Tiger Qi is competitive. Tigers are always looking for opportunities to demonstrate their strength, mostly to themselves. The Tiger’s motivation often derives from inner conflict however, from our dual nature, as a need to prove something to ourselves. So often, we compete with ourselves and test this competition through others.
Tigers are honest due to our naivety. Yang Wood does not have maturity or discretion, so Tigers tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves. We usually don’t make very good actors, due to an inability to be anything other than what we are. Because of this we can be incredibly vulnerable. As Cubs/kids, Tigers are very vulnerable, and if traumatized we can get stuck in arrested development.
Tigers are often very dignified in their expression. Imagine a big noble jungle cat. Or, just look at any house cat that spends all day licking itself. This dignity lends to what the Chinese call the “Awesome Deportment,” and Tigers often find great value in cultivating and expressing a powerful or impressive image. Places, things, skills all must have power, meaning, and significance to add to the Tiger expression, otherwise we’re not interested. Tigers can treat people this way too; we love everybody, but to get us really interested, we must be mesmerized and impressed.
Finally, Tigers are considered lucky and generous. Luck is a very Chinese idea, and some Characters are considered to have it more than others. Luck is defined by being in the right place at the right time, which is usually a matter of Fate. At their best, Tiger’s are gregarious pleasure seekers who love sharing their luck with others.
So now we get to the flipside of all this—of course, this is about self reflection, so we must admit to the depleted qualities of Tiger Qi.
As I have already mentioned, our impulsiveness can turn to a profound restless/rebellion. All Yang Characters are prone to be restless, but Tiger restlessness is scary and goes hand in hand with feeling confined, stuck, in need of exploding out of our situation.
If we do not have problems/obstacle, we often create them in order to have something to rebel against, something to break out of, something to pounce on. We are rebels without a cause, our own worst enemies.
Tigers, especially Fire Tigers, can be risk taking landmines of passion and emotion. Uncontrolled drama and half-baked scheming can make their lives calamitous. Something usually becomes a “savior,” whether it is a teacher/mentor, a partner, a child. Tigers need to be regulated, so family is good for them if they can settle down. At our worst, we are indecisive, always second guessing, so having others take over, a strong partner for example, can be a blessing.
Often, we are so busy generating problems that we are inconsiderate of others. At our best, Tigers are incredibly generous and part of our path is to learn to give, let go, and see outside our problems to a bigger picture. Our inconsiderateness can come from being self-involved, morose, negative, and moody. Tiger Qi can go very dark, but it always comes back, which is part of our stripes. No matter how dark it gets, we can always turn to see the light.
Our restlessness can lead to a unique kind of stubborn egotism, thinking and being utterly convinced we are right (Ox, Horse, Dog, and Goat do this as well). Tigers are unchallenged in the wild; they have no natural predators. We are flustered, confused, and bewildered when challenged, for in the end, Tigers are sure they’re right, and we’re going to do what we want, and we’re probably not going to change our minds. It is difficult to convince us otherwise unless we can adopt things as our own idea, like in the movie Inception. Because of their strength, Tigers usually want to dominate situations, be in charge, which can come across as aggressive, egotistical, and overbearing.
Finally, the Tiger’s dignity and deportment can lead to tremendous vanity and pride. Tigers can be very concerned about their appearance and the opinions of others, although we’ll never admit it. Tigers are very sensitive to criticism and rejection and can be wounded deeply by others if we do not possess a strong sense of self-love/self-possession.
As you can probably tell, I have a love/hate relationship with my Tigerness, which is classic Tiger. It is classical that Tiger Qi is difficult, so I’m not making this up. Studying Tiger Qi has been a personal revelation.
Many of the qualities I do not like about myself, that I wish I could change, I find written in plain English in two dollar paperbacks on the 12 Animals. The suggestion of Chinese Astrology is that our Qi Character does not change. I must learn to live with my impulsiveness and find the best way to “go with it,” channel it, and express it for the benefit of others.
Tiger Qi is an immense capacity when it is trained and focused. So I am grateful that I have had a strong sense of self-discipline and a spiritual path since I was young. This has done a lot to temper by extremely Yang/Aggressive Character. I must insist, too, that I am a Fire Tiger, which is like a “teenage” Tiger. Fire Characters have a perpetual teenage angst. Wood Characters are forever children, Fire—teenagers, Earth—adults/mature, Metal—middle aged, Water—elderly. Since Wood feeds Fire, the Fire Tiger is particularly explosive and traditionally seen as good cannon-fodder.
The Earth Tiger would be the most grounded and stable, the Metal Tiger the most disciplined and refined, the Water Tiger the most dramatic and morose, and the Wood Tiger the most natural and at ease with their impulsiveness. Fire Tigers are a handful, so I tip my hat to my peers, born in the lunar year of 86.
Of course, this can be tempered a lot by the hour. A Tiger born in Pig, Rabbit, Goat, any of the Yin Hours, can be softened a great deal in terms of the basic Tiger expression. As I go through the 12 Animals, remember that we have Four Pillars. The Year is primary, but we also have a Month, Day, and Hour.
I hope you enjoyed this exposition of Tiger Qi. Next up, the Tiger turns to the Rabbit!
Let me be honest—of all the 12 Qi Characters, I find Ox the most difficult to express. I often find myself stumbling to communicate the energetic experience of Ox to my clients, and often it comes out sounding negative. Perhaps, this is because I’m a Tiger, and as I will write about in my next blog, Tiger Qi is a rebellion against everything the Ox stands for, energetically speaking. Every astrologer, every person, is limited by the bias of their character—it is the lens through which we view the world. Naturally, with self reflection, our Four Pillars are available to us, and so they are the easiest to understand. But a Tiger can never become an Ox.
That being said, I know many Oxen. My father is an Earth Ox, and one of my childhood best friends is a Wood Ox. I entered kindergarten a year early, so many of my peers at school were Wood Ox, which makes a lot of sense to me in hindsight, for I never fit in, and many of my friends were also weirdo Tigers who didn’t fit in.
We herd children together, and school teachers (if they’re paying attention) should recognize that every year’s batch of kids is different, and yet each group is similar. So I was herded in with the Oxen, and although I find Ox Qi rather incomprehensible, I am intimate with it and will do my best to transmit the experience.
In many ways, the Ox is a symbol of China, for if China is anything, it is perseverant, and its traditions are enduring. China and the Ox represent the virtue of the heroic preserver, the continuity of Tradition. I am amazed that I am sitting here expressing a continuity of wisdom over 8,000 years old, a wisdom just as relevant and profound today as it was in ancient China.
In the scheme of the 10 Heavenly Stems, this continuity of tradition is represented by the Ox and its Native Element Yin Earth (which is also the Native Element of the Goat). The Chinese character for Earth contains two horizontal lines, representing a surface and a deep sense of stability.
There is no Earth season in Chinese Astrology, for Earth represents the continuity, the ground beneath the changing seasons. The symbol of the Ox, then, related to Yin (rather than Yang) Earth, expresses the strength of the plow animal, shaping the Earth beneath us.
China was one the world’s greatest agricultural societies, and the Ox was the main event which made this possible. The Chinese attempted to domesticate the Mongolian Horse for hundreds of years, but the wild nature of the Horse could not be made to plow. The Ox Clans brought the Ox up from the swampy regions of southern China, and as soon as they attached reigns to it, they were amazed to find the Ox walked in straight lines, plowing even furrows with no goading.
Farmers could let go of the reigns, and the Ox would plow forward, turn around, and come back on its own. Because of the Ox, China’s agricultural productivity increased exponentially, and in a few centuries China became the most successful and wealthy society on earth. The Ox was always then associated with the rewards of consistent hard work and the Confucian value of perseverance in what is right.
The Ox embodies a natural (Yin) strength achieved through gentleness rather than aggression. The western image of the gentle giant comes to mind. In Asia, it is not uncommon to see children fearlessly running side by side with these enormous animals. Oxen are strong, but they are not aggressive, and this is a valuable symbol for interpreting Ox Qi.
China and India are the world’s oldest continuous civilizations, but India was more or less invented by the British. Before British colonial rule, India was incredibly diverse and never consistently unified. The past 500 years of foreign rule in India forced the many subcultures of South Asia to unify, creating a melting pot responsible for what we now call “Hinduism.” Furthermore, India kept awful historical records, so studying anything Indian is questionable and often dubious.
China, on the other hand, was a Chinese invention, the intentional unification of 80 or more separate cultures into Dynasties that endured for over 2500 years, passing on a consistent and coherent tradition. China kept some of the most detailed and precise historical records on Earth. Of course, the continuity of this tradition was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution, but thankfully, due to the Ox like nature of China, we can have at least some confidence in the Chinese Tradition, which was preserved in places like Taiwan.
In order to really understand the nature of Ox Qi, we must look to the Tong Shu, the Chinese Calendar. The Ox rules the 12th Moon, the dead of winter and the hour 1-3am. Ox exemplifies the still, silent, calm, and slow power of winter. In the cycle of the day, Ox represents the middle of the night, the time of deep sleep, rest, and rejuvenation.
Everyone knows they should be asleep from 1-3am. Qi wise, this is the time of day when we are most apt to fall into deep sleep. Even insomniacs can fall asleep during this hour. The tendency of Ox hour is to draw us deep into the dark, silent, still, calm, and peaceful nature of “don’t know.” During Ox hour, you should be like a catfish, hidden in the murky depths of your unconscious.
Ox Qi is therefore described as sedate, sleepy, calm, stable, which is reflected in the Ox Character. Ox is the wisdom of thoughtlessness and steadfastness. In China, Oxen are also associated with Kwan Yin, the goddess of compassion and wisdom, because of their peaceful and gentle nature. In India, the Cow is revered and worshiped as a symbol of nourishment and the abundance of the Earth.
So the first quality of Ox Qi is calm, in the modern parlance “chill.” Ox is by nature easy going and relaxed. This easy going nature comes from the symbol of the Ox’s size and strength—not much can kill an Ox. They are not intimidated or scared easily. Their strength is unquestionable and therefore unhurried, unrushed, natural. Left alone in the wild, Oxen tend to just stand around eating grass, but when put to work they can do anything. Ox Qi, Yin Earth, is grounded and steady. Qi wise, this comes out as a kind of natural dignity, at home in their self and skin.
In terms of the Five Elemental Oxen, the Wood Ox would be the least grounded Ox, and my Wood Ox friends would probably identify the least with the following exposition.
The natural strength of the Ox demonstrates as a kind of self-assured confidence. Oxen tend to believe resolutely (and often unconsciously) that their way of seeing the world and their way of doings things is normal. “Doesn’t everyone do that?” or “this is the way we’ve always done it” are very Ox statements. In the Classical Tradition, this is often described as “conventional.” Even the strangest Oxen I have known do their strangeness in a conventional, consistent, and dependable way. Most of them think their strangeness is normal and can be perplexed when others do not share their views.
This confidence often demonstrates as being just and committed. The Ox is a symbol of the Confucian values of family, society, and nature, which are fundamentally rooted in equality and the fair distribution of resources. Oxen often possess a strong sense of justice, which makes them good leaders. Oxen are natural born leaders and are at their best when in charge and constantly challenged.
Ox are the most likely to receive criticism for being “stuck in their ways,” for not growing/changing/improving/etc. That being said, the consistent and dependable nature of the Ox is natural and the least apt towards innovation, which is not to say they are not creative. It is detrimental to expect an Ox to change based on abstract notions of self-improvement. Their wisdom comes from their consistency, and it is harmful to force them to change—they won’t. The Tiger, then, is the opposite—we’re always changing, and it is a disservice to expect us to be consistent.
The calm nature of the Ox often expresses as quiet and reserved, but this is not always the case. I have known plenty of extroverted Oxen. That being said, Ox tends towards a kind of “sleepiness,” which can be literal. Oxen are often champion sleepers and can cure most illness with deep sleep. They also possess a strong physical constitution by nature and are long lived, rarely taken out by illness or injury.
Ox Qi is unflappable (my favorite word in the English language btw) and “thick skinned.” Of all the Characters, Ox (and Pig) are the least likely to be traumatized. Ox Qi has a tremendous capacity to undergo hardship and difficulties and come through unscathed. The difficulties my Father has faced would have probably killed most people, but he came through everything with wisdom.
Despite the calm nature of Ox Qi, they are tenacious and uncompromising. It is the nature of the Ox to work, to plow forward, to lead, and to take on responsibility. They need tasks, and they need to be constantly challenged, otherwise their strength is wasted and stagnates.
They often have a strong work ethic and lead lives of great accomplishment. By nature, they are dependable, reliable, consistent, punctual, and so on, all characteristics of Yin Earth—the manifestation of smooth, steady, even Qi. Although they are often materially successful, they usually lack attachment to material things because they are self sufficient and don’t need much.
As a work animal, the Ox is independent and yet carries others. Oxen are not usually loners however. They do not rely on other people but rather others tend to rely on them; they are protectors. They take it upon themselves to do things for other people and rarely ask anything in return. The independence, strength, and conventionality of the ox cause them to assume responsibility for everything. They can see it as their mission to carry others and the world on their shoulders.
Recently, I was working on a school project with some lab partners, and we collectively made a mistake. Immediately, our Ox partner assumed the blame and saw the situation as her fault, apologizing for letting the group down. We assured her that we were all responsible, but her reaction was to assume leadership as if she carried the group. This Ox tendency while natural can be heavy for Ox characters, generating problems and hardships in order to demonstrate their strength.
Ox Qi is also loyal and supportive, sometimes to a fault. It is hard to get on the bad side of an Ox, and if you become a jerk they probably don’t notice. Once they accept others, they usually do so for life and will protect them until the end. Sometimes, they can stay in difficult situations for a long time out of duty or responsibility.
Oxen tend to be outdoorsy and at home in Nature. The natural element of Yin Earth lends to a deep connection with nature and a desire to connect to the wilderness and seek refuge in solitude. I have known many an Ox with a strong sense of adventure.
Finally, Ox is sincere, humble, and often sweet, sometimes naive. The image of the Ox is a gentle doe eyed cow. Generally, Oxen are honest and straightforward and not mysterious or confusing in their intentions. They mean what they say and are always sincere in their beliefs and efforts.
Of course, when discussing Qi Character we must look at the virtue displays, but we must also look at the constricted qualities of the same virtues. This is the basis of Astrology as a wisdom path.
Ox Qi can tend toward a kind of seriousness, and Oxen tend to grow up very fast. They often miss out on childhood and become children later in life, especially the Fire Ox. This seriousness can also turn sullen, depressed, and even humorless. Oxen are, perhaps, the most susceptible to “toxic seriousness” and their experience can become very heavy and downtrodden (Wood Ox being the least susceptible).
The heavy and dense quality of Yin Earth can turn to a kind of insensitivity and thoughtlessness. Many of the Oxen I know have been accused of being oblivious, unaware, and clueless. Oxen tend to “not notice” things, people, situations, and they can hurt or offend others by become aloof and dull.
The routine, conventional, and consistent qualities can easily get “stuck in a rut.” Oxen possess an immense capacity to do the same old thing, and they can become slaves to their own conventions—physically, mental, spiritually. Their confidence can be quite convinced and unwilling to change. Furthermore, they can be fearful of change and resist the messages of others for a long time.
Oxen can be ruthless is crossed. As I mentioned, it is hard to get on the bad side of an Ox, but when you do, they can become belligerent and hold grudges for a long time, fixated in their opinions about others and situations. They can have a difficult time letting things go, bringing up the past, repeating patterns of negativity, stuck in a loop. Once drawn into confrontation, Ox Qi can be a scary and formidable adversary (Hitler was a Fire Ox!).
Finally, they can be too strong for their own good. If they are not challenged, they can use their strength to deplete themselves without noticing and break down in old age. Or they can generate problems and challenges where there are none and become their own worst enemies.
All that being said, Ox Qi has a tremendous capacity for resolving Fate. I am always impressed by Ox characters, and I have been blessed to know many in my life.
If you want a great model for Ox Qi, look at Obama—classic Ox (Metal Ox if you’re curious).
In these brief expositions, I can only hope to give you a taste of each Qi Character as a basis for self-reflection, and I want to insist that I am talking about patterns of energy and how they tend to manifest in people. The qualities of Ox Qi, and all Qi Characters, are found everywhere in nature, and in the end, we are talking about Time. Ox is a pattern in Time.
Remember, Astrology is the study of Time, and the View Teachings say that we express the natural tendencies of whatever pattern displays in the cyclical procession of Time. Rat Qi turns to Ox which turns to Tiger.
Stay tuned next time for my exposition of Tiger Qi, which happens to be my Qi Character.
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.
Believe it or not, the Earth is alive. In fact, the Earth and Universe are Life itself. There is nothing but sentience—living awareness. And yet so few of us feel this. Modern life has hardened our senses, and in many minds, Modern Science has made the Earth into mere chemistry, biology, and physics. Those with salvational views may believe the Earth to be God’s creation, but this makes it little more than an artifact, albeit a magnificent one. These are both, of course, myths (myth not meaning false but simply different stories explaining Reality). And while these myths hopefully seem outdated in the modern technological age, they still influence our culture a great deal.
The Chinese Tradition has a different myth. If we call the Scientific myth “mechanical/chemical” and the Creationist myth “ceramic” (implying the universe was made by an outside agent, like a potter shapes clay) then we can call the Chinese myth “organic.” In other words, the Chinese see the Universe as an organism, growing from the inside out, a living flowing process of eternal cyclical movement (Qi), and their view of the living world is vast, incomprehensible to modern minds. Daoists say we share this space with 64,000 kinds of 64,000 kinds/categories of birth (animal, for example, being 1 kind), most of which we cannot “see.”
In the Chinese organic view, the Earth is populated by a vast network of “realms” and “spirits,” governed or “managed” by the blessings and unresolved patterns/issues of everything that came before, and we call these precedents “Ancestors.” These realms share the same space (there’s only one space), but they “vibrate” or move at a different frequency, so to speak. When other beings in other realms are happy and being themselves, they are invisible to us, and we are invisible to them, and we do not “possess” one another.
Although this may sound “conveniently un-provable” by modern scientific standards, modern science states that our eyes cannot see most of the spectrum of light, heat, and so on. In the same way, the Chinese see Earth as “Multi-Dimensional,” with the many simultaneous unseen dimensions intertwining, blurring, and flowing into one another. The deep ocean and dense wilderness, for example, are considered hell and spirit realms, and in the Chinese View we should not disturb these places, for they are full of beings we cannot see, and their exile, say through de-forestation, has powerful consequences, for they are loosed elsewhere. Some of these “other” beings we can see, such as animals. But we can all agree that your Dog does not see the same Earth that you do, meaning they do not see most colors.
You may say—we cannot see heat in the same way a snake can, but we can detect it with instruments and “prove” its existence. You may say, we cannot see ghosts or detect them with machines, so therefore they don’t exist. In response to this, I would ask you—what color is your mind? Obviously, your mind, like a mirror, has no color; you cannot “see” your own mind or “prove” to another person you had a thought, but I doubt you would say your mind has no life.
And sorry, the brain is not the source of the mind; it is only a conduit. The mind simply has a different kind of reality—a mental one, and materialistic science will always be at a loss so long as it considers the mind to be an emergent property of the brain. It is not. Until this difference is acknowledged and reconciled, Western Science and Eastern Wisdom will never actually meet.
Like your mind, many types of beings in the universe have a different, non-physical “un-measurable” existence, and the Daoist/Tantric traditions teach many ways to “see” them with “other” eyes; Daoism teaches that we have five eyes, like the popular third eye depicted in new age literature. So I will unequivocally say that as human beings we can cultivate the ability to “see” other realms, to open our wisdom eyes, but in order to do so, we need to first acknowledge that subjective reality is in fact a reality, and then we need to practice meditation. Many modern meditation teachers now liken meditation to developing an internal microscope, which is a good place to start.
All kinds of birth (womb, egg, moisture, mental/miraculous/light, etc) are Life. In the Chinese View, rocks, trees, rivers, indeed everything on Earth, is alive, that is to say everything has Qi; everything expresses an immortal continuity, a web that has no weaver and no beginning. Buddhism calls this interconnected web Indra’s Net, which is sometimes likened to infinite drops of dew in a vast spider’s web, each drop reflecting every other drop ad infinitum. The Net represents dependent origination, interpenetration, and emptiness.
Central to this organic view is the continuity of Life, called Immortality. I will explore the notion of Immortality later, but to begin, we must understand the fundamental notion that we express an ongoing continuity; in other words, we come from somewhere. We express and come from a past rhythm, like the ripple of waves on water.
Where do you come from? This may sound like an obvious question, but have you ever seriously thought about it? Chances are you have probably thought about it a little but dismissed it as unimportant.
Where do we come from? The short answer is—we come from parents who came from parents who came from parents and so on. We come from life and have the ability to generate life. As long as humans get horny, we can keep the life going forever. You are a link in an unbroken chain of an uncountable number of beings who reproduced. The very fact that you're here means that life has come to you unbroken from the beginning of the Universe. I'll give you a minute on that one.
The proper term for this is Ancestry. Your Ancestors are your precedent; everything that you are you inherited from them.
If you dismiss your Ancestors as unimportant, then you are an anomaly among the human species, for most humans, all over the Earth, in most civilizations throughout human history, have considered Ancestry extremely important. And our culture today does not. Some may argue that this disconnection from our roots, from history, and from our Ancestors is the very reason for our confusion and discontent.
We do not seek to liberate the negativity of our past, and so we are ruled by it. A saying goes—those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. One only needs to study history to see that humans have repeated the same patterns again and again throughout time. And one only needs to examine the politics/rhetoric/cultures of our time to see that we are now repeating history, only this time we’re doing it with guns and giz-widgets at an exponential rate.
In the study of Astrology, we study our history—what preceded our birth. A natal chart is a map of your karma at the moment of birth and a map of your Ancestors, which are actually one in the same. Your “past lives” are also your Ancestors in the Buddhist interpretation of Astrology. Your body, too, is a map of your Ancestors. In order to honor the past, we begin with our Ancestors because they gave us our body; they gave us life, and they give us our Fate.
In the Chinese View, you have many “bodies.” You have a family body, a social body, a friendship body, a cultural body, a religious body, a karmic body, a dream body, a universal body, an energy body, an ancestral body, and so on. Your life is lived in all these bodies, and your Fate, too, is related to each in turn.
These bodies are like a Russian Doll, and some are so big that you cannot really work with them, at least not without straining yourself. So in Spiritual Practice, we work from the inside out with the view that the subtle affects the gross more than the gross affects the subtle. Our ancestral body is at the core of our fate and is actually the easiest to work with. As our bodies radiate outward, they open into our “shared” fate/karma, and our ancestral body lies at the core of this shared fate. There is a reason we are born into our family.
We share fate/karma with our family—why else should our lives be so intimately connected? In the Chinese View, we don’t really have personal fate/karma. In other words, our karma is not isolated in a box for us to work with as a private experience. Our actions ripple throughout the universe, spiraling in and out in our many bodies. The very fact that you were born to your parents means you are connected to them, and everyone in your family is linked throughout time, playing out many roles in many lifetimes.
This ancestral body includes about seven generations of humans and is likened to a stream. There are many streams of karma/fate in the universe; some flow into each other, and all are heading toward the sea, which in turn becomes rivers again in the cycles of time. Some rivers come from different mountains and take different paths to return home. The timeliness of our birth, our birth chart, tells us which river we’re born into and where this river runs. In Polestar Astrology, we call these “Currents of Fate.”
When we are born we enter, or re-enter, the stream, heading to the Ocean, returning to source. Not all currents are the same; some are like lazy rivers and some are like white water rapids. The nature of each stream is determined by all those in it, in other words—by our Ancestors. Through birth, some are dumped in the rapids and others ride in a yacht. This stream is a stream of human mind/hearts connected by karma and fate in the cyclical flow of time. Each of these cycles spans about seven generations forward and backward from each person.
These streams connect most strongly through blood, but some connect in other ways. You may have Wisdom Ancestors and are fated to connect to your Ancestral Stream through a teacher or lineage. Your best friends or co-workers may be your Karmic Ancestors, and your Fate may be to re-connect with them in this lifetime to work in the world. Whether this is the case or not, your Fate is connected to your family, at least a little, and this is what Astrology tells us—where and how your Ancestors appear in your life.
In the Cycles of Fate, some humans, through spiritual practice, good luck, tremendous sacrifice, or great generosity resolve their Ancestral Fate and exit their stream at the moment of death. At this moment, a human who has lived a complete life, who has resolved their karma, can choose to “return” into the cycles (also called saṃsāra) and take birth in a new stream, the same stream, or they can leave the Realms all together, becoming a “pure/light being.”
In Buddhism, a returning being is called a Bodhisāttva, and we assumed that if someone returns to the Six Realms, they do so in order to help out in the flesh. If they leave the Realms they can become a “Beneficial Ancestor” and benefit beings from “behind the scenes.” If, say, your Great Grandmother chooses this role, then she may appear in your Natal Astrology as a guiding force in your Fate and in the resolution of the Ancestral Stream through your conduct in the world. Your Beneficial Ancestors become your drive, your calling, and they give you your path in life, directing you, prompting you, creating opportunities in order to liberate the whole family. They work in the world to create positive circumstances in the resolution of your Ancestral Fate.
As an Ancestral Body flows, Beneficial Ancestors come and go, holding “office,” so to speak. Your Great Grandmother may very well be the precedent for your career. If you powerfully resolve your Fate in career, she may release into what the Daoists call “Great Completion,” or the “Body of Light,” returning to Source. If we resolve all of our Ancestors and Karma, we can experience Great Completion/the Body of Light in this life and leave behind no corpse, meaning that we resolve our birth.
That being said, not all of your Ancestors are happy and resolved; some become what we call Ghosts or Demons, meaning they had an incomplete death, get “stuck” in their transition, and you inherit their “unfinished business,” which I will discuss later.
All of your Ancestors together, form a “team,” a pattern of Karma/Fate which you inherit at birth. As an Astrologer, I read the Fate you where given at birth as a pattern, determined by the Twelve Ruling Stars, which we again call your Current of Fate or Fate Stream. All the Stars I read in a Natal Chart represent Yin and Yang Currents of Ancestral Qi/Fate.
Polestar Astrology, which is not Astronomical but Chronological, actually describes the flow of these Currents in the Universe as they are governed by the greater macrocosmic cycles, spiraling outward from the Polestar, the fixed point in our Heaven, which from the Chinese Perspective is the Emperor of Fate, the place where Karma/Fate is recorded and dispersed. Heaven flows in a pattern and governs the flow of Ancestral Streams on Earth. A human being is where these two things, Heaven and Earth, Life and Death, meet.
In other words, your Ancestors are important. Of course, I’m sure your parents/grandparents are important to you; perhaps you are even in psychotherapy because of this. And although modern psychology gives us a vocabulary for understanding our family relations, in my mind, it completely misses the mark. The influence of our Ancestors is far greater and far more significant than most of us realize. Indeed, it is far greater, albeit far less dramatic, than our “Mommy and Daddy issues.”
Ancestry has been abstracted by being “psychologized,” and so many of us explore our family issues, but few of us actually honor them. In other words, we exalt our issues and do not exalt our Ancestors.
In Chinese Astrology, we call the presence of the Ancestors in our life Yuan Qi, or Ancestral/Original Qi. In the modern parlance, your Ancestors are your “issues,” and they are also your talents, goals, aspirations, and health.
In the past century, terms such as “Ancestor Worship” and “Spirits” have been used to denigrate many old-world traditions by relegating them to “superstition.” It was not only Missionaries but Anthropologists and Modern Scientists alike who brutalized the Animistic Traditions because they did not perceive their own view as religious. In other words, we are plagued by hundreds of years of Western Scientific Materialism and Salvational Christianity misinterpreting other cultures by perceiving them through their own lenses. It is only in the past 20 or so years that scholarship has begun to rectify this.
Sadly, our cultures (especially here in America) are losing touch with our ancestral roots, and we have certainly lost touch with the Spirit World (the subject of another Blog). As a culture, we do not honor our Elders, and we do not honor our Ancestors. As a result, the past few generations have become very “loose;” we have become a generation of ghosts. We drift around like floating heads, and the quickness of our technological advancement has displaced us from the cycles of nature so fast we have barely begun to realize the consequences. Furthermore, the popular myths of Creationism and Scientism have dominated our minds and made us insensitive to the vast networks of life on Earth, which is exemplified in the phenomenon called climate change.
This network, this flow of life has many dimensions, names, and expressions which I have already mentioned—the Spirit World, the Ancestors—if we open our minds to the situation we are actually in, if we experience everything in the world as alive, and if we learn to honor and respect this life, then we have the opportunity to transform our experience and reconnect to our Nature.
I do not personally believe that science has “disproven” the old world views; rather, I believe it never understood them in the first place. I do not advocate a “return to the jungle,” (maybe a little) but I do believe there is great value in understanding what the Chinese and many other Traditional Cultures mean by Ancestors. And I believe there is even greater value in honoring our Ancestors in the terms of these Traditions.
Ancestral Qi is actually the main subject of Astrology, which is difficult for most people to understand. During Astrology sessions, I introduce this idea to people, and while most are open to it, many look at me like I’m crazy. It never occurs to us that our neurotic self-limiting tendencies are not actually ours. Our human freedom simply hosts and expresses inherited patterns.
So far in this blog, I have gone to great lengths to discuss foundational view teachings on Yin-Yang, Hun Tun, the Five Elements, but when it comes down to it, Astrology is about Ancestors. This is a huge topic, and once we understand the basic view on Ancestral Qi in a practical and accessible way, the entire tradition of Chinese Astrology opens and becomes a powerful tool in the path to Human Freedom.
But before I explore the practical understanding of Ancestral Qi, I would like to return to the subject of Immortality, an often misunderstood idea from Chinese and Indian cosmology. Immortality is often interpreted as not dying. The longevity cults and traditions of Immortality in China have long been interpreted as attempts to extend physical life forever, in line with Western myths about the “fountain of youth,” but from the Chinese perspective this is nonsense.
Immortality has nothing to do with not dying. Your Original Nature is immortal. The purpose of studying Astrology, following a Spiritual Path, and resolving our Ancestors is to discover our Original Nature. In other words, when we have resolved our Fate, when we are free of the tangles of Karma, we touch our Source which was never born, never dies, and yet flows forever in an Immortal Procession. Reproducing eternally in sex-paired opposites, Life has been flowing forever since beginningless time.
Realizing the dimension of our experience which is already immortal, we become Immortal—we realize that what we are in Essence does not die because it was never born. By realizing Immortality all of our Karma/Ancestors are liberated into the Eternal Now. In the Chinese/Indian View, a Realized Immortal is free then to benefit beings in all the realms throughout time, no longer bound to the Fate of their Ancestors.
So how do we work with our Ancestors? How do our Ancestors influence our everyday life? Well, this is actually quite simple. First, we have to get the basic view that we have no abiding self.
If we have no abiding self, what are we? In short, we are a compound of our Ancestors. In other words, we are a stream of thousands of people flowing together into a single body/mind. We identify with this stream and call it “I/me,” because our nature is reflexive, but actually you are the flowing karma of many other people, and they too were a compound of many other people, individual expressions in the flow of Ancestral Streams.
Let’s first take your body—obviously you received your body from your parents. When your parents kicked boots, Yin and Yang, Red and White, came together and produced a third, a combination of two Ancestral Streams. So you may have your Mom’s eyes, your Dad’s jaw, your Grandmother’s butt, your Dad’s poor circulation, your Great-Grandmother’s hair, and your Great-Uncle’s freckles. Our physical constitution and health are clearly an expression of many people. Our health and fate for illness and disease is largely Ancestral (or produced by our freedom/conduct).
But what about the rest of you? Our culture recognizes that talent “runs in the family.” But we don’t seem to acknowledge that everything runs in the family. Your intelligence, talents, interests, likes/dislikes are also inherited from your Ancestral Stream. Perhaps, you inherited your Grandmother’s intellect or your Great-Great Aunt’s musical abilities. In other words, in order to honor our Ancestors, we must realize that EVERYTHING we are has a precedent; everything comes from an Ancestor, from past actions. We are simply a new and unique combination of all the people we come from, including our own “past lives.”
So this obviously means that we inherit negativity as well. Our fear, neurosis, hatred, prejudice, dullness, allergies, illness, accidents, addictions, and so on also come from our Ancestral Stream. Since our culture is narcissistic and self-obsessed, we exalt our “specialness” and blame ourselves for our negative traits, creating all kinds of stories about how messed up we are. Or we blame our parents, which is the wrong interpretation of the Ancestral View. If we are taught from an early age not to identify with the negativity we inherit, then we can work with it without blaming ourselves or our parents.
Of course, we must take responsibility for our actions, but we need not blame ourselves for, say, inheriting a long pattern of addiction. Take responsibility to break the cycles of negativity you inherit. If you take this kind of responsibility without blame then you will realize that no one (no “self”) was ever personally responsible, and all of your Ancestors become free. Unfortunately, many paths, such as psychology, exalt the notion of working with our negativity without teaching us that it was never “ours” (or anyone’s) to begin with, and so cycles of blame perpetuate in endless “talk therapy” sessions digging through the past.
You may be addicted to chocolate. You just can’t stop eating it. Well, perhaps your Great Aunt grew up poor and only tasted chocolate once in her life at a rich person’s house. Perhaps, she died poor and never tasted chocolate again. So she died with the taste of chocolate as a painful reminder of everything she could never have and always wanted. Now you can’t stop eating chocolate, and it is giving you respiratory problems. You have to stop but can’t because you identify with the problem and do not realize that it is not you who wants the chocolate but your Great Aunt. Her desire was passed down to you energetically, so to speak. In the Chinese View, all of our patterns are like this. All of our compulsions, addictions, and bad habits are just streams of karma that get passed down through Ancestors.
Perhaps, your Grandmother died in World War II. She was sitting at home, heard the sirens, and a bomb was dropped on her in an air raid. Now you’re 35, have no stability, and move from place to place because every time you make a home you feel unsafe, like something bad will happen, and you have to get out.
Maybe your Great-Grandfather lost everything in the Great Depression and could not feed his family. He turned to drink and became very depressed. Disgraced he hanged himself in the barn. The family survived but never spoke of him again. Now you’re a teenager and are haunted by an irrational depression; one day after school you try to hang yourself in the garage.
Your Grandfather was an immigrant. He worked 80 hours a week to build a business from nothing in a new land. Through hard work he succeeded but never spent any time with his children or wife. Now you’re 40 and a work-a-holic. You have spent your whole adult life getting ahead and succeeding, making the best of what your Grandfather created for you, but you too never see your family.
Here’s a personal example. I had a relative who had a heart attack on the dance floor and died. And I hate dancing. If you ask me to dance, I feel like I’m going to die.
Or, let’s take the Buddhist perspective of Ancestors as past lives. You have been a monk for the past 30 lifetimes. Now you’re a Modern American and have a tremendous impetus towards the spiritual path and have no idea how to date (okay that one’s me too).
This can get very dark. Say you lived all of your life as a good person. But your village was raided and in your last moment before death you watched a soldier murder your child. And in that last moment, you bit down and felt the most unbelievable rage followed by the desire to kill the person who killed your child. And in death you forgot all the goodness of your human life and could remember nothing but the rage and the feeling of biting down, in which you get stuck, unable to release. In anger, you chase after the only beings you can “see,” and your great nephew gets terminal cancer.
In the Chinese Tradition, this is called Possession. And these issues are called “ghosts” and “demons.” This is a huge topic. In short, a ghost is an Ancestor who had a very incomplete death, full of longing, desire, and dissatisfaction, which you may inherit as anxiety and low-self-esteem. A demon is an Ancestor who died full of anger and hate, which you may inherit as an incurable illness or irrational aggression or as a freak car accident.
Anyways, you see where I’m going with this? This may sound negative, and I don’t want to spook you. I want to open your mind to the continuum of death experiences and to the notion that while your body may die, your energy, your momentum, your karma continues and becomes Fate in your Ancestral Stream.
But we are not bound to the Fate of our Ancestors. According to Astrology, every Human is a compound of three things—Character, Fate, and Freedom. Humans are, by nature, Free. I’ll say that again—WE ARE FREE BY NATURE. Our limitations, our Karma, and our Fate are inherited. We have no Self. We are a swirling stream of past actions coming to fruition in a mind/body, and nowhere in this stream is there a solid “you.” What you call “you” is just the ability of this compound stream to self-reflect.
When we liberate our Ancestors, we are free to rest in our Nature, which is clear, radiant, calm, but also dynamic and active. A Human Being free of their Ancestors is relaxed and has no compulsion to do anything other than respond appropriately to their Natural Appetites. The momentum of pain and happiness behind them has vanished into light. The more we relax into our Nature, the more we experience ourselves and the world as a phantasm of Light (Qi).
So how do we work with our Ancestors? Better yet, how do we honor them? First—get an Astrology reading! As I mentioned—Polestar Astrology describes the nature of your Ancestral Qi in terms of your Fate and Karma. A reading will tell you if your Fate is in family, career, children, money, and so on, and this tells you how all your Ancestors are crowded behind you.
All my Fate is out in the world, for example; it is not with marriage and children. Of course, I can have family, but if I do so they will be a demonstration of my Freedom. Knowing where our Ancestors are pushing us (and you should already be aware of this to a degree because it’s your life) is helpful. We can deplete ourselves wasting energy in the areas of life that are not fated.
Honor yourself as an expression of everything and everyone that came before you. Recognize that all of your talents and skills, fears and neuroses, come from others. This means letting go of self-hatred and blame as well as self-cherishing. When you do this, thousands of ghosts disappear into light. Letting go of self blame does not mean blaming our Ancestors, for they too were in the same position. We want to liberate them, not blame them. And we do this by following a spiritual path.
By choosing to work with and release our limiting patterns, we release our Ancestors. Release self blame and self-cherishing—cultivate self-respect and self-love. Love yourself—love your Ancestors, for they are one in the same. You are your Ancestors—they exist in you, as you; they do not float around in heaven/hell—they are your living body/mind.
If we live a very thorough life, full of intent and generosity, and if we cultivate a spiritual path, then in the moment of death we do not get “stuck.” Our issues do not get passed down. If we do not have a complete experience of life, then we do not have a complete death; we get stuck in the “bardo,” between birth and death, like a skipping record in a place outside time, and our momentum continues. So most importantly—cultivate self reflection and release your negative patterns through conduct and meditation.
Honor your literal Ancestors; this means your Parents, Grandparents, Culture, and so on. You should thank your Parents for Life; you should honor their wisdom and treat them with respect. You should love them no matter what, no matter what kind of childhood you had. Your enlightenment is theirs too.
Ritual offering is one of the most powerful ways we can honor our Ancestors. Every Chinese home has an Ancestor Altar. Create an Ancestor Altar and make offerings to it every day. Put pictures of your family on the altar and offer them symbols in the form of food, flowers, incense, prayer, songs, or anything that comes from your heart. When you make an offering, cultivate the intent to free everyone in your family line from all their/your negative Fate. You are thousands of people embodied, and everything you do you do as them, for them.
Do prostrations in front of your Ancestor Altar. In the Tantric and Daoist Traditions, prostrations are the main practice for liberating your Ancestors. Visualize all your Female Ancestors in an unbroken line behind your left shoulder and all of your Male Ancestors behind your right shoulder. Honor everything you come from and bow (even better get transmission on Prostration Practice and do it as part of your spiritual path). Prostrations are embodied—your body is the living expression of your Ancestors, and to bow in full prostration with your body to the stream that generated it is very powerful.
Have proper funerals. Whatever your deceased Ancestor expected—do that. If your Dad was an Irish Catholic and wanted you to get drunk at his funeral and tell stories about him—do it. You may say, “I’m a Buddhist; I don’t drink.” On that day you get drunk like an Irishman. If your Mother wanted to be cremated—do it. Never do what you want at their funeral—do what they wanted and expected—this helps their transition, especially if you have strong family traditions, which is why it is important to write a will. Do not chant Buddhist Sutras at your Irish Grandmother’s funeral—you will probably confuse her. Tell their stories, and allow yourself time to grieve. Say everything you wanted to say to them, and make sure that you keep speaking to them for at least seven weeks after their death. Visualize them resolving into light and love.
Also, if you have the honor to be around a Family member in the dying process, do whatever you can to make their experience peaceful and full of resolution. Do not cry and sob and wail around a corpse. The dead can hear for a long time after death. If their last moments are of you crying “don’t leave me!” They may stick around as a ghost.
Research your genealogy. Find out who you come from, where you come from. Make a family tree. Get a DNA test. Find out all of their names and stories. Go back as far as you can. Find out if and how they immigrated. Did they go to war? Were they farmers? What languages did they speak? Has anyone in your family been forgotten? Are their sad stories waiting to be told? Sometimes, an Ancestor can linger for generations, just waiting to be remembered, for their name to be spoken. Sometimes this is enough.
Eat the food of your Ancestors, at least a little. If your Ancestors spent the past three hundred generations eating potatoes, pork, and cabbage, or yak butter and barley, or rice, beans and squash, or bread, clams, and pasta, and now you’re a gluten free-vegan…they may be unhappy. If your body came from pork and cabbage and you’re giving it tofu …unhappy Ancestors. Of course, eat what you want, but try to eat Ancestral Food mindfully at least every once in a while.
And finally—contemplate the preciousness of Human Birth, the reality of impermanence and death, the difficulties of saṃsāra, and the truth of fate/karma. These are called the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind towards the Dharma. While the Buddhist Traditions are immensely complex, 98% of the Buddhist paths are in these preliminaries.
To be born human and to hear the Dharma is said to be very rare and therefore precious. Imagine a single sea turtle swimming alone in a vast infinite ocean. This turtle only comes for air once every million years. On the surface of this ocean floats a golden ring, tossed about on the waves. The likelihood of being born human and hearing the precious Dharma is said to be as rare as this turtle coming up for air and poking his head through the golden ring. So be thankful for being human, having human parents, and for the chance to make human babies. Out of all 64,000 x 64,000 kinds of birth, human beings are the most free and the most apt to become enlightened, even more so than Deities. All the more reason to thank and honor your Ancestors.
Everything is compound, processional, and in a state of flux/flow, hurling toward death. All compound phenomena are impermanent and subject to birth, old age, sickness, and death. YOU WILL DIE. And this is not morbid or depressing—it is natural. Death is as natural as Birth. Birth is the cause of death. We live in order to learn how to live and so how to die well and be liberated in the moment of death. Contemplate this every day, so that when loved ones die, and when you face death, you can relax and open into the experience. Death is the greatest opportunity to understand Life, and you do not have to wait until death to learn this lesson. Die before you die and you are free.
Saṃsāra means to cycle. Everything cycles in time—this is the meaning of Astrology. The cyclical procession of Time is Immortal—we cannot get out of it. This was the realization of Mahāyāna Buddhism. We’re Immortal, and we either cycle in Ignorance or Enlightenment. So if we’re Immortal and here forever, we might as well work for Liberation so that we can help out. If we do not take up the Path and free our Ancestors, our Karma, then they and we continue to cycle in Ignorance and suffering, repeating the same patterns of negativity forever. But if we follow the Path, liberate our Ghosts and empty our Hells, then we realize that saṃsāra and nirvāṇa are the same place, the same Immortal Procession of Light, and we are free to relax, go with the flow, and benefit beings with our naturalness and generosity.
Every action has a cause. And every action is a cause. This is called Fate or Karma. In every step, in every thought, and in every action contemplate this. When our actions and our experiences are incomplete, they continue as fragments, called ghosts. When our actions liberate ourselves and others they continue as virtue energy, called good karma or Beneficial Ancestors.
Our Ancestral Stream is full of Ghosts and Beneficial Ancestors, and their blessings and issues create the tapestry of our life. This tapestry is nothing other than past actions coming to fruition. If we truly understand the nature of this matrix, we can disentangle from it. Its nature is empty yet luminous; it is unrestricted and free to manifest as the appearance of cause and effect. As long as we identify with the cycles of cause and effect as truly existing, whether good or bad, we cycle in ignorance. Realizing the Emptiness of Fate and Karma, we experience the universe as an empty display of Loving Awareness-Light, and we are Complete.
Our Completion is not ours but belongs to our Ancestral Stream. Our Liberation liberates the countless beings who came before us, going back to beginningless time. Our Precious Human Birth and our opportunity for Liberation were given to us by our Ancestors. So honor them, and honor yourself.
Stay tuned; in my next Blog I will begin my exposition of the Twelve Characters of Destiny.
Many people consider Astrology abstract and irrelevant to ordinary life, but the truth is quite the opposite. The assumption that Astrology is strange, superstitious, or occult comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what Astrology actually is.
So what is it? In short, Astrology (better understood as Chronology) is the study of Time, Cyclical Time to be precise. Time is the flow or rhythm of our experience in the rhythms/cycles of Nature, reflected in the rhythms of the human body/mind. If you do not think Time is relevant to human life, then feel free to stop reading. If you do, then please keep reading. I would like to offer you some reflections on Time and the spiritual path.
What do I mean by spiritual path? I use this term a lot, but I honestly have no idea what people think when I do. So here, I define the term “spiritual path” as an ongoing interest in cultivating your humanity, which means being interested in what you must do as a human being. Furthermore, this cultivation must be based on a coherent and cohesive view about the nature of human beings/reality. The spiritual path according to the Chinese and Tantric Traditions begin with an interest in your natural and inherent human condition. This begs the question—biologically we are human, so can we resist our humanity? Actually yes.
From the Confucian/Daoist perspective, we are given human birth by our parents, obviously, but we must qualify as a human through education, conduct, and self-reflection. In other words, if we are not properly educated in expressing and relating to our humanity, and if we do not discover these values/virtues in our own experience and conduct, then we can use our freedom to express non-human qualities.
Humans, for example, may use argument to warm up conversation to agreement and compromise; if argument turns to anger, blame, aggression, and violence, we are expressing demonic rather than human qualities. If we spend our life blaming others, we are not qualifying as human and may not be born human the next time around.
Generosity is natural to human beings, but if we do not experience what it feels like when someone is generous to us and act from this feeling, then we may not choose generosity and opt for selfishness, which is a non-human virtue. Because we are free, we can choose limitation and therefore need education and self-reflection. The spiritual path, then, begins and ends with cultivating our human nature, which according to the Chinese Tradition is already in perfect harmony with “Capital N” Nature but may need some education. And unfortunately, most of us receive a very poor education in our humanity.
The Human Spiritual Path cultivates the fundamental aspects of our humanity that we cannot escape. Within the context of Daoism and Tantra, these inescapable human qualities fundamentally relate to Astrology, which is what I would like to discuss here in brief. These are the breath, food, sleep, sex, and death. As human beings we must do these things, and they are all rhythmic, i.e. Astrological.
The following list outlines the categories of spiritual practice and cultivation according to the Human Spiritual Path of Daoist/Tantric Astrology. If anyone tries to sell you a spiritual path that does not engage with these principals, they are selling you a fantasy religion.
As humans, we must breathe. This is the most basic and fundamental rhythm we cannot escape for more than a few moments. The Daoist/Yogic traditions of meditation are very interested in breathing, as you may have noticed. Most basic meditation practices will ask you to relate to your breath in one way or another.
In Chinese Medicine, we breathe Tian Qi, or Heavenly Qi, which when combined with eating or Gu Qi, Earthly Qi, forms the basis for producing Blood and Chen Qi, or ordinary Qi, the basis of our ordinary experience.
How is breathing related to Astrology? First, you cannot inhale and exhale at the same time, which implies that breathing alternates (Yin-Yang) in the flow of Time. The fact that it alternates means that it is a rhythm which is the definition of Time/Astrology itself. While it may seem abstract, our breath is considered a microcosmic reflection of the rhythm of heaven/the universe. In Daoism, the breath is called the gate of Heaven and Earth (in and out), or the “Purple Palace,” which in Astrology is called the gate of Fate and Freedom. The breath is our main source of reciprocity with the world.
What most people don’t know is that our breath actually flows in reciprocity with the Sun, Moon, and Seasons. In Daoist and Tantric Alchemy, the rhythms of the Sun and Moon affect our solar and lunar channels, which help to regulate our breathing, for example alternating which nostril opens and closes.
Simply put, breathing is the basis of our Human experience and the basis of the spiritual path. We cannot stop, so if we want to have a spiritual path, we must become interested in our breathing.
We breathe from birth until death. Our first breath demarcates our “birth time” in Astrology, which forms the basis of our Fate.
As humans, the second thing we must do is eat. This means that we must also assimilate and eliminate. This pattern of eating, then, involves many rhythms related to Time/Astrology. We bite, chew, and swallow; our digestion undulates in a rhythm. We tend to shit (pardon my French) in a rhythm, too, usually in the morning. If we do not defecate consistently/rhythmically, this is a sign of illness.
For many reasons, eating is the basis of the Spiritual Path. Buddhist teachers may not tell you this, but I will say unabashedly that if a spiritual teacher does not ask you to relate to your diet (and this does not mean forcing vegetarianism for "moral" reasons) then they are teaching a fantasy path.
The experience of our body and health is founded upon diet/exercise. This is a big subject, so I will keep it short and say that we each possess a unique constitution that thrives on different kinds of food. In Tantra/Ayurveda, this principal is called “for whom and when.” In other words, in order to follow a spiritual path, you must cultivate your health through understanding your elemental constitution and then eat accordingly. The tradition of Macrobiotics/Dietetics is an integral part of Daoism, and Daoists have experimented with diet and meditation for millennia.
Eating and breathing produce Chen or Ordinary Qi, which allows us to do EVERYTHING, including meditation, Yoga, and so on. No eating, no spiritual path. Improper eating—poor quality of life, poor quality of meditation. Monks the world over are malnourished and unhealthy. Americans are often over-nourished.
How is eating related to Astrology?
First, food is planted, grown, and harvested according to the seasons (or at least it was before mono-cropping). The Seasons are fundamental to Astrology, and seasonal eating is fundamental to health. Eating according to Astrology profoundly connects you to the Earth.
Second, you may notice that you eat at certain, hopefully consistent, times of the day. According to Astrology, there are specific times in which we assimilate nutrients most effectively. Furthermore, according to Astrology, we should not eat dinner after the Sun goes down, for our digestive fire goes down with it. If we eat late at night and close to sleep, then our sleep and dreams are disturbed.
Third, breathing and eating produces Xue, or Blood, which, like our breath, pulses in a rhythm. In Chinese and Indian Medicine, we take a pulse because this fundamental rhythm reflects our health/state of being. The pulse alternates according to Yin-Yang and the Five Elements, which we read in/according to Time/Astrology. The Moon pulls the tide and regulates our pulse, since blood is mostly water. We have 12 pulses that reflect the path of the Moon through the 12 houses/28 Mansions of the sky from day to night.
Again, this is a big topic, and it is enough to say that if you do not pay attention to your diet, you are not showing up and inhabiting your life, and you are certainly not following a spiritual path.
Sleep & Dream
As humans, the third thing we must do is sleep and rest. We spend 1/3 of our life asleep, which may be 30 years if you live to be 90, so clearly it is important. Yet how many of us black out at night exhausted and wake up groggy, un-rested, and with no memory of the night? If this is you, then you are not fully on the spiritual path. You must sleep to be healthy. If you want to follow the Human Path of spiritual cultivation, then you must be interested in what you must do, so reclaim the night and actively participate in sleep and dream. Path/Shamanic Dreaming is a huge topic, which I will eventually write a book about, so stay tuned.
Sleep and Dream are fundamental to both Daoism and Tantra. Sleep and Dream are also related to Death, which is last on our list.
How is sleeping/dreaming related to Astrology? By now this should be obvious. We are not nocturnal; we sleep according to the rhythms of the Sun/Moon, which is the subject of Astrology. When the Sun goes down, our body begins to shut down and prepare for sleep. According to Chinese Astrology, the night has many phases that regulate our sleep and dreaming (to learn more read my blog on Conduct and Harmony with the Time of Day). The content of our dreams is both Astrological and Ancestral, Ancestral Qi being a primary subject of Natal Astrology.
If we do not learn how to have proper restorative sleep and if we do not consciously engage in our dreaming, we are not on a spiritual path; we are wasting 1/3 of our life. Astrology/Time is the context for understanding Sleep and Dream.
Mom and Dad got into a rhythm, and now you’re here. Sex is the only way into the human realm. So as humans, the forth thing we must do is have sex/reproduce. If you do not consciously engage with your sexuality, you are not on a spiritual path—period. If a spiritual tradition says that being celibate is more spiritual, it is teaching a fantasy path. It may be for some people, but probably not for 98% of the planet. Sexuality is absolutely natural; horniness, in a sense, creates the species. No sex, no precious human birth. In the Tantric/Daoist View sex has three purposes—reproduction, recreation, and re-creation.
According to Chinese Medicine, we produce something called Jing, regulated by the Kidneys, which is a kind of predilection towards physicality, towards manifestation. Jing carries our ancestral memory, which we inherit from Mom and Dad kicking boots. Jing reproduces us; a scar is faulty Jing memory. Made to reproduces us (the subject of Daoist/Tantric Alchemy), Jing also creates junior, which is why you have your Mom’s eyes and your Dad’s jaw. My Grandma told me I have the “Eartmann Nose,” which I channel from my Danish Ancestors.
How is sex related to Astrology? First, Natal Astrology is related to an event called BIRTH, you probably don’t remember it, but it was significant. The timeliness of your birth says everything about you. Birth determines Fate and Character. Fate is something given to you by your ancestors, part of which is passed through Jing.
According to Chinese Medicine, the quality of sex your parents had to have you has a great deal to do with your Fate, Health, and Character. When we have good sex, when we both lose our false self and find our humanity in the process, when we deeply want a child, and when all of our organs (not just our genitals) are aroused, our Jing becomes magnetized, and this calls forth powerful beings and makes great children. So according to the Chinese Tradition, it is immoral/irresponsible to have bad sex because it produces bad humans, hence the many manuals on sex in Daoism (which unfortunately get misinterpreted along with all the Tantric sex nonsense).
Of course, most sex does not make babies. But according to Astrology, our sexual chemistry is very much defined by our Astrology, a cornerstone of arranged marriage in both China and India. And seeing that every human being wants to have sex at least a little (probably a lot), then (regardless of with whom/in where) we should have good sex. Astrology helps us understand how two people relate sexually due to ancestral Jing.
Finally, sex/relationships are now the source of tremendous confusion, frustration, and suffering, especially due to a 3,000+ year history of transcendental over-masculinized religion that has repressed women and sexuality (and women’s sexuality) with the view that sex/woman/the body are sinful or an impediment to the Path. According to Daoism and Tantra this is inhuman. Sex is fundamental to our humanity and therefore fundamental to our Path; if we do not engage consciously with our sexual energy, we do not walk the Human Path.
Finally, as humans we must die. Obviously, you just had to be born or you would not be reading this. Birth is the only cause of Death. No one dies from illness, disease, accidents, and so on—this is an exaggerated myth. We die because we were born—period. Death is natural to birth in the same way that shitting is natural to eating; we may not like it, but we have to go. If we do not engage with death and mortality, then we are practicing a fantasy path. And this is not morbid.
Every human being has the natural ability to die well, but we cannot do this if we do not practice. Luckily you practice dying every night when you fall asleep, another reason to consciously engage with Sleep and Dream. Daoist and Tantric practices are largely a preparation for death.
That being said, we die like we were born—somewhere in the flow of time. Our predilection for illness and death is largely ancestral, according to Chinese Astrology. Astrology can help us understand our “ancestral stream” (which I will discuss in the next blog), and this stream tells us where we came from and where we are going. If we resolve our Ancestors (karma/everything that came before, i.e in Time), then we are able to experience our Original Nature and die as an Immortal.
Birth and Death form the basic rhythm of all Life, which is actually an Immortal continuity. Engaging with Death, especially through Sleep/Dream practice, we learn that our Original Nature was never born and therefore never dies; we learn that Birth and Death are a dream. Touching this primordial continuity and living from it is the meaning of Enlightenment and Immortality in the Daoist/Tantric Tradition.
Breath, food, sleep, sex, and death are the pillars of the Human Spiritual Path, and each show us the continuity of the Rhythm of Life in the flow of Time/Astrology. These are enormous topics, and my goal here was to give you a taste of how they relate to Astrology. If you are sharp, you will realize that the Human Path is all inclusive, meaning we cannot reject any aspect of our Humanity if we want to grow spiritually. This is not a popular idea yet in Modern Spirituality, most teachers start you with Meditation or Yoga, which goes to show how crazy it is. Meditation is useless if it is not contextualized within your actual human life, which is founded upon breathing, eating, and so on. This may sound controversial, but as I have said, any spiritual teacher who does not engage you with food, sleep, sex, and death are teaching a fantasy. You are human, and your human body and its natural appetites are the spiritual path—period.
Astrology offers a fundamental lens to understand our Humanity. Why? Because Astrology is the study of Time, and all of our experience happens in the cyclical procession of time. I contend that you cannot become enlightened or even live a full and rich Human life if you do not fully engage with these subjects through the lens of how they flow/flux/alternate in the rhythms of Time.
How do we engage with them? APPETITE
Appetite is the KEY to all of these subjects. The Human Path is inherent within you because you have a natural appetite, given to you by your Ancestors, for breath, food, sleep, sex, and death. If you learn to cultivate your body as a sensitive instrument, then it will tell you everything from when, what, and how to eat; it will tell you what kind of partners and sex you need; it will tell you precisely when you’re tired, and it will even tell you when it is time to die. If you relax into your Natural Human Condition through relating to these fundamental rhythms, you will realize that your Natural State is already in perfect harmony with Dao, no need for strenuous meditation and striving.
Finally, and above all, as humans, we MUST relate to other humans. The Path of Human Spirituality is the path of discovering your natural relatedness, and these five categories are a good place to start.
Stay tuned; in the next blog, I will discuss the meaning of Ancestors in Chinese Astrology.
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.
From complete “I don’t know,” called Dao, our experience alternates in a pattern we call Yin-Yang. I have explored these concepts (Dao, Yin-Yang) as a basis for cosmology, cosmology addressing the questions—what is the universe; what is a human being? Cosmology provides a view for our experience, so we can work with it directly rather than conceptually. Delving further into basic cosmology, the Chinese Tradition describes the movement of Qi in a cycle of five phases, sometimes called “elements,” which I would like to explore.
First, I need to address two views central to Western thought, which are antithetical to the Chinese Tradition—theism and materialism. In ancient China, these would have been non-issues. In our culture, however, they are central. In short, Chinese Astrology operates from a non-theistic and non-materialist view. If we operate from a theistic or materialist view of reality, our use of Chinese Astrology actually won’t work.
Theism is central to the cosmology of India and the West. Although broad and diverse, theism is simple. Here, I define theism not only as the belief that God(s)/Goddess(es)/deities exist but as the belief that they are somehow significant. For example, God created the universe as in Genesis. Or, from the countless examples of India, we are penetrated by Śiva (called samāveśa), and our limited being merges with cosmic or divine Being. China heard many forms of theism and said—not interested. In response to the Bible—all deities who live in mountains say they created the universe, and they are all wrathful; why would you get involved with them?
Chinese Astrology is not atheistic; it is non-theistic. In other words, Chinese cosmology recognizes the existence of many, many kinds of beings (64,000 types of ghosts, for example), all falling into six broad categories shared with most Asian traditions—demon, ghost, animal, human, demigod, and god. While beings are not all “equal,” no one is more significant or important than another. There are teachings for ghosts, teachings for gods, teachings for humans, etc. We all move in different rhythms, have different kinds of bodies, and experience the universe quite differently. Deities are just other kinds of beings with a different, more exalted, more ethereal kind of experience. And in terms of a Universal/Primordial Being or Cosmic Consciousness often described in India, Chinese Tradition would say—very clever but “unknowable;” don’t bother. And Dao is certainly not God in the Western sense.
Many wisdom traditions say that we are really God in disguise. Many people want to discover who they truly are, find their passion, expecting to find God and great meaning behind everything, or that they posses great power or purpose. Many seek a big exalted enlightenment experience where everything is revealed, and we get to have a big birthday party—the big enlightenment doughnut in the sky. Liu Ming used to say that if you study Chinese Astrology and come out the other side of fate you should find out your own non-existence rather than the “real you.” The real you is something like space…very disappointing to the ego and not very satisfying to big spiritual appetites. In the study of Chinese Astrology, we are not looking for God’s plan or design, and we are not looking to find our purpose or passion. We are looking to find our ordinary human experience, situated in our actual situation, which is enormous.
Theism is not denied; it is more or less irrelevant to our ordinary human experience. In Chinese Astrology, we aspire to the human spiritual path, not the path of deities. The experience of deities is not given a special place, nor is the idea of one God. Confucius refused to talk about God—you actually had a father; this is significant; don’t make a bearded daddy in the sky. The human spiritual path is about how humans relate to other humans, not to God.
Chinese Tradition begins from the view that ordinary human experience is already complete, already in perfect harmony with the Dao. The only thing preventing this experience is false views about reality, based on our belief in an abiding world and self. We do not need help from God or deities to realize our Original Nature; we need only to be in our actual human experience—already perfect. The human path of spirituality is based on ordinary human life, which consists of ordinary rhythms such as waking, dreaming, and sleeping, eating, digesting, and shitting, inhaling and exhaling, circulating blood, all in relation our human experience of life on Earth.
Chinese Astrology is also non-materialist, which brings us into the discussion of five elements. Element theory in Europe and India is often materialist; when we say Earth Element, people often visualize dirt; this is not the case in China.
While modern physics is slowly offering us a vision of reality that has been know in Asia for thousands of years, we are still a decidedly materialist culture. In other words, we believe in a solid abiding world and that we are solid abiding beings. I might say the proof that I “exist” is that cannot pass my hand through the table. I know that my cat exists because he looks the same as he did yesterday and two weeks ago and so on. We believe in material, in stuff, in things. Since things appear to be stable and consistent, we think they are solid entities, existing from their own side. We entertain the notion that we are compound (made of parts, pieces, components) because we have common sense, but as a culture, we believe that these components are reliable. We searched for, and apparently “found,” the “God Particle.” We examine things in the hope that we will finally find something “undividable” (the meaning to the word atom), whether it be particles or light waves—there must be something that makes up or accounts for everything, some building blocks. This was the impetus for ancient element theory in Europe. Well, the Chinese Tradition, especially Buddhism, says—no. There is no ultimate stuff, and if there were it would be un-findable, ungraspable, and indefinable by concept; this is one meaning of the word emptiness. The fact that everything escapes investigation and description means there is nothing solid or abiding to ultimately find; everything is infinitely dividable. What you’re looking at is what you think you’re looking at. In other words, your world is a projection, a mental construct, the mind crystallizing a display of light and mirrors.
Holding the view of an abiding self and world is actually painful, and nothing will ever be more exhausting than trying to maintain this view, so let it go—that’s Buddhism in a nutshell. Reality is an unimpeded, unbounded, dynamic flux, so as soon as we fixate our view and hold on to stability/permanence, reality begins to grind us down—this is the meaning of the word dukkha in Buddhism. Suffering occurs when our view and reality are misaligned. The ancient meaning of the word dukkha comes from an axel that does not fit properly into its spoke; you can force it, but the wheel rolls funny, and the axle grinds away.
If people actually exist, then they actually die. If there was a creation, there will be annihilation—this is a nightmare. In this moment, we are hurling towards the grave, but there is no real “you” anywhere in this hurling; there is just the hurling, a compound in procession.
Everything is compound PERIOD. And everything is in procession, meaning in a flow/flux. This is what is meant by non-materialist. What we observe is movement, but there is no “thing” moving. What moves is Qi, but Qi is not a “thing;” it is just movement itself, and we describe movement as Yin-Yang, which further differentiates into a cycle of five phases. Two goes to five, making ten. In Astrology, these combinations of two and five are called the Ten Heavenly Stems—Yang Wood, Yin Wood, Yang Fire, Yin Fire, etc.
This view is in direct opposition to theistic creationism and scientific materialism. Our culture tends to fixate in an either or situation in regards to religion/science. You either believe in science or religion or you compromise between the two while secretly believing that one is “real.” When push comes to shove, most of us believe in Scientism; in death we turn to science/western medicine to save us, especially when the machines go “bing!”
We cannot approach Chinese Astrology from this perspective; it won’t work. Yin-Yang and Five Element Cosmology does not involve creation or destruction. We speak of the procession as generating and concluding, but this does not imply a beginning or end. There was no beginning, no first movement, and no big bang that started everything (b/c what came before that?). Things resolve, but resolution is the mother of generation; death is the mother of birth. There is never an end to this continuity. Life is an eternal rhythm that goes—birth-death-birth-death…
In this view, there is nothing outside Yin-Yang and the Five Elements; there is nothing, no one, no creator watching and judging. If you use Chinese Astrology as a replacement view—if you replace God the Father/Jesus with Śiva, or Dao, or Buddha, this is almost as stressful as the view of a permanent soul/self. All you have done is found new language to substantiate ignorance.
In Astrology, we describe our Character and Fate in terms of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements, but in order to make sense of this, we must understand them as basic principles. Remember, these five phases describe the procession of all movement, all change, and all experience...your experience! Wisdom comes from your own living experience. Cosmology is not religious. It is a vocabulary to help us feel into our experience, nothing more. And, again, it is not materialist, meaning Wood Element is not lumber, Fire Element is not flames, Earth Element is not dirt, Metal Element is not gold, and Water Element is not H2O. They are principles describing the cyclical procession of Qi. While they are processional, they can appear simultaneous. They can be big, describing the movement of galaxies, or small, describing the movement of thought. We begin with Wood; we start with start.
Although we start with Wood, we must remember the mother of Wood is Water, meaning when things end and resolve they have nowhere to go, nothing to do except start over again. Wood Element is the starting over part of our experience, the Qi experience of start, made possible by death. Wood Element is the basic fundamental impulse or whim to manifest, generate, grow, and move. But it does not manifest; manifestation does not happen until Earth. Wood is eternal freshness, eternal beginning, naïve and new before everything, before thought. Everything is about to happen; Wood is the potential that never demonstrates itself. You cannot paint freshness and hang it on a wall, nor can you actually see Wood Element. The first two of the Five Element cycle are un-manifest, meaning they do not actually appear. They are the process that must occur before anything can appear. Wood is associated with the juicy, young, fresh, quality of experience. The image of Wood comes from the sapling, the sprouting seed, associated with spring and the color green/turquoise, the color of new life starting again. Even in the oldest tree, there is still something juicy sucking up rain. While we use this imagery to describe Wood Element, the actual experience of Wood is this impulse, this prompting before things manifest. When "spiritual people" talk about the Eternal Now, they are describing a Wood Element experience. Wood is the mother of Fire.
As soon as this prompting, this impulse to manifest moves, this movement generates a kind of friction or heat we call Fire Element. This heat gives manifestation a direction toward appearing. Fire Element is not flames. Fire is still un-manifest. In other words, we do not see heat/fire. What we call fire, i.e. the color of flames, comes from the moisture in wood; heat itself is invisible; it is just temperature. The image of Fire Element, associate with summer and the color red/orange, does come from flame, but this is only an image. Fire Element is the warming/heating up, directional part of our experience. For example, the end (water) of being satiated prompts the beginning of a new cycle (wood), which begins to heat up (fire), generating hunger. As soon as any impulse happens it gains a momentum, a direction; the Now, for example, has a direction; it flows. Fire is the quality of vigor, energy, the impulse of Wood Element getting excited, wanting to manifest and appear. So Fire is the mother of Earth, giving birth to appearance.
The heating, stirring, frictional quality of fire sparks and what “began” as an impulse manifests as appearance. Earth Element is the tendency of Qi to appear and manifest temporarily as form. Earth Element describes the continuity, the stabilizing of Qi in the cycle of change. Earth Element constitutes a great deal of what we consciously experience. Earth and Metal are the qualities of our experience which present a “world.” Looking in front of me, I see a form (earth), which, in and of itself, is non-conceptual. I call it “table,” and the table appears to be solid and exist. The continuity of “table” may last a while, but in a thousand years it will be decayed and gone. The Five Element cycle of change is largely invisible and does not actually produce anything that lasts. It produces temporary appearances; the temporary (however long) aspect being defined by Earth. The table appears to exist for a while, but it will disappear. Just because titanium lasts for a really, really long time (relatively speaking), does not mean it is permanent; titanium is still in a process of movement/change. Earth is heaviness, the experience of continuity and solidity. My body, for example, feels solid and heavy, and so I become attached to its existence. However, I shed me cells every 7-8 years; my body is not the same body I had at 16; nothing about it is stable; I may die tomorrow. The image of Earth Element, associated with the continuity of the seasons and color yellow, comes from the ground, the mountains, from things that appear to endure. Alone, however, Earth Element is mere appearance. As soon, as appearance manifests it immediately begins to transform and change, giving birth to Metal Element. Earth is the mother of Metal.
As soon as appearance stabilizes it begins to become particular, differentiated, and variegated. Nothing is what it appears to be. Metal is the maturation of Earth, appearance crystallizing into “things,” taking on qualities, but always changing in its particularity. The form in front of me is mere form, but as soon as I recognize and distinguish its qualities, I label it “table,” and it becomes a “thing.” I can now describe the table—Metal Element. Metal Element is the particular, conceptual, refined quality of our experience. Associated with fall and the color white/silver, the image of Metal Element comes from alchemy, the refinement of precious metals from raw ore. Practically, Metal Element is refinement, our organs refining and extracting nutrients from food, for example. Together, Earth and Metal constitute most of what we call “stuff,” appearance and conceptual designation. Qi has the tendency to appear as stable stuff, but this stability is merely a momentary aspect in the cycle of Qi. Soon, we forget, we have moments, perhaps when spacing out, when we forget about who we are and where we are going. Metal element is tenuous, strenuous, and refinement cannot be maintained. Our concepts about reality are limited and must fall apart. It is exhausting to maintain appearances, so Metal gives birth to Water, collapsing into oblivion.
The peak of manifestation and appearance has nowhere to go, nothing to do except collapse and fall apart. Water Element is the falling apart aspect of our experience. Water is the “end” of the cycle, so it is also the beginning, the mother of Wood. Water is associated with death, with dissolution. Our experience of life is full of death. We experience so many endings; it is amazing we fear death. Every inhalation ends; every thought passes away; every sensation dissolves. Every night we die when we fall asleep. Water Element is the collapsing of particulars into undifferentiated soup. If things didn’t end, nothing would move; there would be no room for anything new. The constant dissolution of our experience constantly makes way for the impulse of Wood, for newness. Associated with winter and the color blue/black, the image of Water Element is like water itself, describing the flowing, liquid, malleable, interconnected, fluid nature of life. Water Element is the recognizable, dramatic experience of change. Usually, we don’t notice change until things collapse and dissolve. Water Element is therefore associated with drama, with Big Yin. But nothing can end permanently; dissolution naturally generates the impulse to manifest; nature abhors a vacuum. So Water is the mother of Wood, and the cycle begins again.
What I have described here is the “generating” cycle of the Five Phases. Naturally, there is a “concluding” cycle. Water extinguishes Fire, meaning dissolution maintains excitement. Wood eats Earth, meaning freshness lightens the heaviness of the heart. Fire melts Metal, meaning inspiration softens rigid thinking. Earth absorbs Water, meaning continuity and stability upholds the fear of death. And Metal cuts Wood, meaning logic and reason edit naivety.
The wisdom of the Five Elements of Qi is meaningless until we recognize it in our own experience. The Chinese Tradition is relative. It does not come from God; it comes from humans. It must be examined, over and over again. Do not accept it until you examine it. If you can identify part of your experience that does not fall into these five categories then we can add a sixth. Since millions of people have not been able to do so over thousands of years of tradition, and neither have I, I find it comprehensive. Yin-Yang and Five Element cosmology is quite profound. Here, I have only attempted to describe the basic qualities of each as a basis for your own inquiry.
Next, we will delve into Character and break down the “folklore” aspect of Chinese Astrology. I, for example, am a Tiger-Rooster-Horse-Dragon! But what does that mean? Before that, however, I will discuss xiāntao, the Way of Immortals, the lineage this Astrology comes from.
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.