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.
Before delving further into the view teachings of Chinese Astrology through the five elements, I would like to offer a glimpse into the practicality of Astrology. While I often emphasis the “big picture,” this big picture can be difficult at times to connect with, especially in a culture which does not value cyclical time. So, I would like to offer a simple guide to a “Chinese Day.”
In the view of cyclical time, the energy of the universe moves in natural rhythms. These rhythms are mathematical and move in a pattern of 12 branches/Qi characters x 5 elements or 60, derived from the Jupiter cycle, the historical source of our 60 second/60 minute time measurement in the West. These rhythms of 60 spiral inwards and outwards from microcosm to macrocosm, including the rhythms of our body and the rhythms of the universe. While these cycles are endless, the most observable and practical are called the Four Pillars—the lunar year, month, day, and hour. For example, I am writing this during the Yang Water Horse hour of a Yin Wood Rabbit day of a Yin Fire Pig month of a Yin Wood Goat Year. These words describe the different patterns of Qi that the universe moves through all the time, around and around. Like the clock, these cycles do not go anywhere except in circles. I will have much more to say about the Four Pillars in future blogs.
For now, rather than going on and on about the view, I would like to emphasize the practicality of these cycles by describing the basic outline of the 12 hour day of the Chinese calendar. A Chinese hour is 2 western hours, covering the standard 24 hour day, and moves along in the pattern of 5 elements and 12 Qi characters of the zodiac, forming a 60 double-hour cycle, which spans 5 days.
Chinese Astrology teaches that the universe is exuding a certain pattern of energy during each phase of this cycle, and the energy available tends towards certain patterns of conduct. If we live according to this cycle, we have the momentum of the universe behind us, and we are more apt to live a harmonious life. If we resist or ignore these cycles, then we not only shorten our life, but we obscure the wisdom inherent in our natural condition.
The universe is already moving in a certain pattern; if we go against the grain, we slowly grind ourselves down. We can choose to ignore the natural condition with our freedom, and human beings are very good at adapting. So in some cases, we can succeed, but only temporarily. In this view, everything is self-resolving, so eventually, moving against this cycle will cause illness.
Unfortunately, our culture pushes us to be productive all the time, and our industries often force people into unnatural cycles. For example, service jobs often require people to work late into the night when they should be asleep, which causes them to sleep late into the day when they should be active. We do this for long enough, and we get used to it. If this is the case, then I offer this as something to consider in the long run. In youth especially, we have the Qi to avoid natural wisdom, but this only lasts for so long.
Our body, energy, and mind move in the same rhythm as the universe. When we live according to the natural cycles of time, we (microcosm) begin to mirror the universe (macrocosm), revealing our fundamental interconnectedness.
Although it is helpful to learn the natural tendencies of each time of day, it is more important to actually feel them. If we can sense the Qi of Horse Hour, then it becomes a source of wisdom. Horse hour is a time for productivity; hence, I am writing and am compelled toward activity.
I hope that this guide helps you tune into the natural rhythms of life. Here is a basic outline of the rhythm of the day (remember this changes according to the 5 elements, so eventually you will feel the difference between a fire dog and water dog hour)
Chen—Dragon: Yang Earth—7-9am (3rd Moon)
We shall begin with Dragon Hour from 7 to 9 am. Dragon is BIG YANG, associated with the rising sun. In the Chinese Zodiac, Dragon Qi is considered unlimited potential; it is all the animal energies combined into one mysterious, ineffable potentiality. Energetically, this is the most powerful and active time of the day. You should always be up, awake, and entering into action by Dragon Hour. This is probably difficult for people who like to sleep in. Actually, if you investigate your experience, you should be naturally compelled out of bed during this time, regardless of whether or not you are a “morning bird.” Since I was young, I have never been able to sleep in past 9. This is also when our digestion is most active. We can digest and assimilate anything during Dragon Hour, so this is the best time for a nourishing breakfast. This is the time to get the day in motion. Begin your day by Dragon Hour, and everything will flow along naturally.
Si—Snake: Yin Fire—9-11am (4th Moon)
After BIG YANG comes BIG YIN in the form of Snake Hour from 9 to 11 am. In the Chinese Zodiac, Snake Qi is associated with the unseen, the unknown, and with the empty nature of apparent phenomena. After the big energetic launch, Dragon Hour, the universe naturally recedes and opens into a space of self-reflection, without which Dragon Qi can become too ambitious, and we may exhaust ourselves during the day. Snake Hour is a tremendous open transparency in which we are able to see through our ambitions to the fact that Yang always turns back into Yin. Everything we work to achieve will fall apart, so the rest of the day should be filled with this awareness. Once we get our day going during Dragon Hour, we must slow down and reflect on who and what we are and on what we are doing. Snake hour should be a time for mystical self-reflection, revelation, and preparation for the rest of the day. Without taking this time to reflect, the rest of the day can become linear, and we may be fooled into the notion that we “progress” and that time is going somewhere other than around and around in eternal circles.
Wu—Horse: Yang Fire—11am—1pm (5th Moon)
After this necessary self-reflection, we are ready for Yin to turn back into Yang, and we enter Horse hour, the time for productivity, industry, action, and energetic independence. From 11am to 1 pm, we should naturally feel compelled toward productivity. This is when we should “work,” in terms of physical labor, building, construction, production, and so on. In the Chinese Zodiac, Horse Qi is associated with thoughtless action in the best sense. Horse is the wisdom of manifestation, of “doing,” and of embodiment. Horse is associated with craft and skill. If you are physically active and productive during Horse Hour, you will live much longer and not exhaust yourself. This is also the other time of day when our digestion is most active, so it is the best time for a hearty lunch.
Wei—Goat: Yin Earth—1-3pm (6th Moon)
Once we have completed our most vigorous and productive activity, Yang turns back to Yin, and we enter the refining and socializing Goat Hour from 1-3pm. In the Chinese Zodiac, Goat Qi is associated with the “herd,” with social order, cooperation, compromising, harmony, justice, fairness, and so on, and it is also associated with aesthetics, art, and beauty. Goat Hour, then, is the time to work and be with others and cultivate friendship and teamwork. This is the time to get together and do things in groups and to refine and adjust the productivity of Horse Hour. Once we create something, we must step back and adjust our creation to accord with social context and welfare. Building a table is useless if we do not sit down to eat, and what good is eating alone if your friends are hungry? Goat Hour is also the time for art and aesthetics. It is a time to paint, write, sing, or just stare out into the landscape and contemplate humanity.
Shen—Monkey: Yang Metal—3-5pm (7th Moon)
After the refining Goat Hour, Yin turns back to Yang, and we move forward into Monkey Hour from 3-5pm. In the Chinese Zodiac, Monkey Qi is associated with planning, strategizing, projecting, adapting, and imagining. Monkey Hour is the time to look forward to the next day or week and plan ahead. In terms of work, it is the time to cease productivity and to shift into imagination. This is the only time of day you should actually project into the future; plan ahead, and then drop it. In the wild, Monkeys are always scanning the environment for danger and anticipating threats. During Monkey Hour, our Qi naturally anticipates the end of the day and the transition into night. So it is a time of adaptation; soon we must head home, but before we do, we must digest the experience of the day, adapt accordingly, and anticipate what may come. Monkey Qi is also playful, so this is the time to end the seriousness of work, “quitting time,” when you should joke and have fun with co-workers before heading home.
You—Rooster: Yin Metal—5-7pm (8th Moon)
From Yang back to Yin, we receded into Rooster Hour, from 5-7pm, the time of completion. In China, this time of day is associated with “coming home to roost,” the time when all the chickens and animals make their way back to the barn. It is the “crepuscular hour,” the transition from day to night. In the Chinese Zodiac, Rooster Qi is associated with completion, precision, competition, and confidence. This is the time to go home. Once home, this is the time to take pride and have confidence in what you have done, to reflect and analyze. This is the Yin hour of digestion, the time for tea and a light supper, when we can refine and extract the most nutrients towards the end of the day. If there is a time to hang out with friends at the Pub, this is it; Rooster is associated with bravado, and with the kind of socializing that relates to the “pecking order.”
Xu—Dog: Yang Earth—7-9pm (9th Moon)
Once we return home, we move from Yin back to Yang into Dog Hour, from 7-9pm, the family hour. In China, they say if you are home and with your family by Dog hour, you will live a long and happy life. In the Chinese Zodiac, Dog Qi is associated with loyalty, dedication, faithfulness, and protection. By Dog Hour, you should be home and enjoying social time with the family. This is an active Yang hour, the time to connect and socialize with those closest to you. The family dinner, ideally, should happen late during Rooster Hour, and now this is the time to enjoy being home, to relax, read, watch TV, talk, play with the kids, play with the dog, and forget about the troubles of the day. Since we have domesticated dogs, they have been associated with protection, the family dog often staying awake until everyone is safe and asleep. Dog Hour is the first active phase of the night, when we cultivate vigilance and family loyalty. If we live alone, it is a great time to cultivate the same qualities with close friends.
Hai—Pig: Yin Water—9-11pm (10th Moon)
Now that we are home and have actively unwound during Dog Hour, Yang turns back to Yin and we relax, sinking down into Pig Hour. In the Chinese Zodiac, Pig Qi is associated with sensuality, relaxation, and enjoyment. It is the time when our Qi sinks down and prepares for sleep; Pig is the falling asleep hour. Associated with enjoyment of the senses, this is the time for sex, pleasure, and honesty (pillow talk) with our partner. This is the time to put on pajamas, relax in bed, turn out the lights, and fall asleep. If you should be up and awake by Dragon Hour, then you should always be in bed by Pig Hour—you will live much longer. It is the natural time of the day for falling asleep, which our culture rebels against (which is fine every once and a while; pig hour is great for parties). Staying up past this hour on a regular basis, according to Chinese Astrology, is a surefire way to get out of sync with the natural rhythm of life and cause illness, because the next hour is the beginning of the dream and sleep phase. If we do not respect sleep and follow the natural rhythm of the sun and moon, then we do not accord with the energy available for regeneration during the next few cycles, and our sleep is not restorative.
Zi—Rat: Yang Water—11pm-1am (11th Moon)
From Yin relaxation, we move forward into Yang sleep, the Rat Hour, from 11pm to 1am. By this time we should have entered into the first stage of sleep, related to the Rat. In the Chinese Zodiac, Rat Qi is associated with analysis, editing, and resolution. It is the wisdom of the compound nature of things, of taking things apart. This phase of sleep is light, and we experience resolving dreams where we edit our experience from the previous day. Our dreams during this time reflect ordinary life, and our subconscious takes this time to digest our incomplete and fractured experience. In a Rat dream, you may get in your car and drive to work, turn to Cynthia in the next desk to find that she’s orange. This is the best time to enter consciously into the dream state, into dream/sleep Yoga. Rat Hour is a preparation for deep dreamless sleep in which we process all the surface details of life; it is when we can make use of shamanic dreaming and dreams of portent. If we miss this time for Rat dreaming, then we may repress the opportunity for mental digestion/editing.
Chou—Ox: Yin Earth—1-3am (12th Moon)
After the editing period of Yang Rat sleep, we sink into Yin sleep, the Ox Hour, from 1am to 3am. Ox Hour is the time for deep, dreamless sleep. In deep sleep we truly rest and rejuvenate. In the Chinese Zodiac, Ox Qi is associated with the return to origin, with slow, steady, uncompromising Yin. During this time, we should have no consciousness and return to complete “I don’t know.” This is the best time to sink into the deep dark unconscious depths, which can eventually turn to Path Dreaming or Clear Light Yoga. If you are awake during Ox Hour, you miss the greatest opportunity for deep rejuvenation and restoration of the body, energy, and mind. It is important that we return to this deep “I don’t know” in order to re-attune ourselves to the natural cycle and start over again.
Yin—Tiger: Yang Wood—3-5am (1st Moon)
Emerging from the darkness of Yin Ox sleep, we break out of the murky depths into Yang Tiger Sleep, from 3-5am. In the Chinese Zodiac, Tiger Qi is associated with the daring, unconventional, fearless, inspirational, and symbolic. This is the second phase of Yang sleep. During the Rat Hour, we edit from the day and sink into Ox dreamlessness. During Tiger Hour, we emerge from the dreamless state to express wild, symbolic, creative, and fearless dreaming. This is when we can fly and visit other worlds; this is when we have “weird” dreams, the kind that make no sense whatsoever. Tiger dreams are a pure expression of the creative impulse of the unconscious. After the rejuvenation of Ox Hour, Tiger Hour is when we are naturally capable of lucid dreams and dreams of clarity, when we are asleep and know we are dreaming and have the full capacity to explore consciousness. According to Chinese Medicine, when we sleep, our "Hun Spirit" leaves the body; the Hun is the body in which we dream. Tiger Hour is when it can “astral project.” If we are awake during Tiger hour, we miss the opportunity for the full exploration of dreams and for the fulfillment of our true creative potential.
Mao—Rabbit: Yin Wood—5-7am (2nd Moon)
After the playful Tiger sleep, we transition from Yang to Yin again for the final phase of the day and the transition into the next, Rabbit Hour, from 5-7am. In the Chinese Zodiac, Rabbits are associated with the Moon, with intuition, interpretation, and the spirit world. Rabbits are most active during this “crepuscular hour,” this transition into day. The Rabbit is associated with the early dawn, when the first soft light begins to shine. It is a misty, magical, gentle hour, when the world is alive with this “bunny” energy. This is the time of day when we slowly and gently emerge from our den. It is the time to rise and prepare for Dragon Hour, the true start of the day. Rabbit Hour is a transition, in which our intuition and interpretation is activated, the best time to digest, record, and interpret our dreams. It is also the best time for morning sex, as Rabbits are associated with reproduction. Traditionally, this is also the best time for meditation and Yoga, so it is best to wake, practice, sit, and begin our day in this space of subtle yet gentle intuition. From here, the cycle starts all over again with Dragon Hour.
According to Chinese Astrology, this cycle is already the natural tendency of our life. If you are in touch with your natural condition, then this should feel natural. This is something to experiment with. It is best to feel into each hour and actually experience the Qi associated with the time of day, so you can go with it rather than against it. It is difficult for us “modern professionals” with such demanding lifestyles, but this is the way humans have lived for thousands of years. And remember, the view teaches that the cycles of time are cyclical, like the Sun and Moon. There is no “progression” in time; we do not move in a straight line, but rather we alternate (Yin/Yang) and go around and around in an eternal procession. The more we move with the natural flow of the Universe, the more we begin to mirror and eventually experience our natural state.
Certain aspects of Daoist and Chinese Cosmology have become “popular.” When I mention Yin and Yang, Qi, or Feng Shui, most people nod their head. However, many students, including myself, are too eager to abandon these basic notions to get to the “details,” the important part where we actually know stuff.
The engineering/mechanistic view of reality tells us that the universe is some kind of Swiss Watch, and that the significance of the universe is in the details. If we can examine all the details and measure everything, somehow this is supposed to produce insight. In the Chinese view, this is non-sense, like taking a watch apart to find the time.
Basic teachings are the key to wisdom. If we rush to expertise, we become hysterical maniacs. Master the basics, and you will flourish.
The following two blogs will zoom out again and continue to examine “the big picture,” the basics, what is called cosmology, the view of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements. To understand anything Chinese, we must understand these teachings in cosmological terms, meaning we must understand how they relate to our actual experience.
But first, I must say something about View Teachings and Astrology. Liu Ming made it a point to emphasize View Teachings. Why? We, as modern post-Christian secularized industrial engineer merchants, are far too eager to adopt techniques and methods from Asian Wisdom Traditions, as if the methods, the “doing stuff” part holds the key to “evolution/progress.” Expertise without wisdom roots is bankrupt and will fail. We must ask basic questions, again and again. If we do not start from a basic understanding of humanity, our expertise will lead us to aggression.
The ten million-billion things all fall into two categories—Yin and Yang. Forget the ten-billion; learn the two.
I have been studying and attempting to practice Asian religions for more than fifteen years now, and I have almost nothing to report. I have learned, however, that all methods, mindfulness for example, come from a certain “view” about reality. Furthermore, all methods are intended to have certain fruition based on that view. Without view, methods are meaningless and will at best produce a kind of neutral effect. If I have learned anything quantifiable, I have learned that methods are a dime a dozen. There are literally thousands of techniques of meditation, yoga, and divination. In short—if we practice a method without adopting the view, that method will not give its intended fruition; it may even be harmful.
I recently asked a friend interested in learning Tantric practice what he thought a human being was, and he replied, “a piece of shit.” And he is not to blame; our culture tells us that human beings are basically bad, and our popular media and Religion certainly reflect this view. However, the fundamental view of Tantra states that human beings are self-liberating expressions of a primordially pure enlightened essence (which is a little too profound for Daoism). If you believe that humans are basically sinful, bad, broken, greedy, and so on, then you can practice Tantric Methods, visualize chakras and channels, hold your breath, squeeze your perineum, and chant mantras for a million years and never experience liberation, because your view and your method are mismatched. When we study view teachings, we fundamentally alter our way of relating to experience, and this opens the space for transformation from the inside out.
If we adopt method without adopting view, then we supply the method with the view we already have, conscious or unconscious. In the case of Americans, this often places the individual and their problems (psychology) at the center of the universe. In this case, Astrology and Meditation become a new vocabulary for our own self importance. Chinese Astrology should make us gentle people and free us from the hysteria of self hatred and self cherishing. In the Chinese View, no individual is significant, and the goal of Astrology is to discover what we have in common, not what makes us different.
In the Chinese view, Astrology should never be used as a form of aggression, smashing our afflictions and murdering our obstructions to get one-up on the universe. Neither should the information be used to condescend and exalt us over others. Nor should it be used to obsess over details, as if the exact position of the north node of the moon will give us “answers.”
The View Teachings of Chinese Astrology, then, are of central importance to the practice and to receiving a reading. To make use of it, we must understand Chinese Cosmological View. It is easy to learn technical vocabulary and techniques; it is not so easy to change our view. And to be clear, view is not philosophy; we consider view as if it were describing reality as it actually is. Philosophy is an option—people should be kind; view is not an option—all that is compound is impermanent.
Finally, we must become aware of our eclecticism, our mixing of views. If you are an ex-Christian scientist who now believes humans are chemical skin bags, or a cultural Jew turned Buddhist, or a California Hindu-Yoga-Buddhist-Taoist-Whatever...this will have an effect on your practice. Eventually, eclecticism turns into something, usually an orthodoxy, but most often it just turns to confusion.
So far, I have discussed these view teachings by exploring the questions—what is a human being and what is the Universe? Within these basic questions, I have begun to explore fundamental view teachings on Character, Freedom, and Fate. I have also been hinting at the “Big Picture,” by discussing Hun Tun, the view that reality is an unknowable chaos, and that all we can observe is temporary cyclical patterns of movement. But how do these view teachings relate to our actual experience?
Take a moment and ask yourself—what do I actually experience?
The Chinese would answer—Qi. What is Qi? Qi is not substance; it is non-abiding movement. We experience movement, and all movement has a direction.
Modern new-age spirituality often talks about oneness. And the term non-dual often implies a kind of pretentious sophistication—that non-duality is the “highest” teaching. However, oneness and non-dual in the Chinese view are meaningless and say nothing about our actual experience. What we experience is dual movement alternating in a polarity. Like the poles of a magnet, this duality is inextricable yet defined by two-ness.
Life is splendidly dualistic. In most traditions, dualism is problematic. Duality is somehow a kind of evil, a misunderstanding, a delusion, rather than something that actually defines the natural world. Duality is the closest image we have to the natural world, and it is not mistaken.
This alternating image of the natural world is known as Yin and Yang, which is probably the most famous Chinese idea. To understand anything Chinese we must understand Yin-Yang. As I mentioned in the beginning, our tendency to obsess over details often causes us to overlook the big picture, but I assure you—if you study Yin-Yang theory, it will irreversibly change your life. It describes the whole of our experience, not through details, but through understanding that everything, absolutely everything, is in an alternating process of change.
The Yin-Yang symbol is now plastered on everything from surfboards to sauerkraut labels, so the idea is at least familiar. The popular understanding, however, tends to miss the point. Popular literature often splits Yin and Yang into two lists. On the Yin side you see words like—negative, dark, contracting, descending, cold, heavy, and substantive. On the Yang side you see the opposite terms—positive, light, expanding, ascending, hot, light, and active. And this is all true. But it is not the point.
I once mentioned Yin-Yang in conversation, and a friend asked “which one is push and which one is pull?” The Chinese answer is yes! In other words, it depends. We describe Yin and Yang only to get a basic understanding of their qualities. But they are a continuum. Our experience flows along an alternating continuum. This continuum is circular. We can identify something as Yin, and this means it is turning into Yang. We can describe something as Yang, which means it is turning into Yin. They constantly transform into one another as a kind of cyclical wave pattern.
Let’s take “cold” as an example. We can generically identify cold as Yin. But no temperature is static. A refrigerator can maintain a cold temperature, but this is strenuous (Yang), requiring energy. Cold in this case is in a tenuous state of Yang produced through effort. If the refrigerator breaks down, and it wants to, cold disperses and temperature warms. The heating process in this case is Yin because it is the natural release of strenuous energy. In other words, Yin and Yang cannot be pinned down in absolute terms like hot/cold; nothing can. Everything is not how it appears. Each appearance can be temporarily described as Yin or Yang on the Yin-Yang continuum.
Our actual moment to moment experience also alternates along the same kind of wave pattern. Any experience you can identify is turning into another kind of experience. Identifying confusion, for example, is clarity. Our emotions are never static.
We experience suffering, discontent, and disease when we believe our experience is static. But our experience is never stable; nothing is stable. We exhaust ourselves trying to make things stable and secure when their natural state alternates. This is the true wisdom of Yin-Yang. If we are upset, we are actually moving in the direction of contentment, only sometimes we have to go a little further down before we start moving up again. We may be elated in the thralls of a peak experience, but this means we are moving towards depression; you can only go “up” for so long. Experiences like happy and sad are identifiable through their contrasting opposite, and we vacillate through emotions all the time. The more we understand our experience as naturally alternating the more we can relax. Knowing that sadness is already moving in the direction of happy, we can learn to enjoy both, for they are each natural and tell us something about our experience. We develop equanimity only when we accept that nothing is static and that all movement is circular; we then begin to host the whole process.
In Chinese Astrology, this movement is called self-resolving. Yin-Yang is the basic pattern of movement, and it is a self-resolving pattern. This means there are no “problems” to fix. Everything coming apart is also coming together. If we have this big view, we do not need to panic when our life falls apart (panicking a little is okay). Something needs to fall apart for other things to come together. This is the natural cycle of everything from the vastness of galaxies to our very breath.\
We do not try to inhale; exhalation naturally resolves with inhalation—this is Yin-Yang. You cannot find a distinct point when inhalation becomes exhalation (go ahead, try!) because they are a continuum.
All that being said, we still have Freedom, meaning we can resist natural cycles. Our culture has an immense prejudice toward Yang in the form of activity/productivity. This prejudice, I think, comes from a kind of general unnamed anxiety, stemming from many diverse factors. Christian linear time/original sin, mechanistic God is dead scientism, rugged mercantile individualism, 200+ years of war and aggression…fear and anxiety lurks beneath the surface of American culture. Our culture does not support us (my Dad once received a $300,000 bill for a two week hospital stay), and we rarely support one another (who are your neighbors?).
I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted just being an American. Our culture operates on the notion that progress is infinite. We are constantly trying to “improve” everything, and we are expected to be “productive” all the time, reflected in the standard 40 hour work week, which depletes us, leaving little to no time for anything but recovering from exhaustion. No one can work 40 hours a week and be healthy. Everything we do is work—we work at work, work on our relationships, work on our bodies, work on spiritual practice, work hard play hard. And we are at war with everything, trying to destroy cancer with aggression in the fight against death. All of this is excessive Yang, and it’s exhausting.
Because we have Freedom, we can resist Yin-Yang through Yang force, and we can resist our Fate, but not for long. Our excessive productivity depletes us and causes all kinds of illness and disease. Our standard of health is often, “just get me back to work.” Yin is weakness, and we hate weakness. Trying to be strong, strong, strong all the time is like a bridge with no sway; it will crumble in an earthquake.
According to Classical Yin-Yang theory, they are not equal, but they are a balance. Americans want everything to be equal, so we exalt yang. The universe, however, is about 98% Yin and 2% Yang, which is just enough to make it move. Very little actually requires effort. Most of what we do requires no effort—digesting, circulating blood, breathing, thinking, hearing, seeing, and so on. The planets revolve around the sun with no effort. These are natural process which the Chinese call Ziran, which means “of itself so,” in other words, Yin. We barely need to “do” anything; we are already flowing in a spontaneously arising self resolving universe. And everything that we identify with is actually a complete mystery of spontaneity.
I have no idea how I form thoughts, how I speak, how I remember. It would take a thousand years to describe in technical language the complexity of digesting a sandwich, and yet I do it without effort. Yang is the tiny push of a ball at the top of a hill that sends it rolling. The key to balance is learning when to apply just a little effort, which sets things in motion. But if we are applying effort all the time, we actually deplete Yang, which is limited (2%), and we become ill, sometimes so ill that death is the only Yin resolution.
Yin-Yang is both movement and rhythm, and movement implies that nothing abides. There is no “thing” that moves. How could there be? Qi is not a substance, a thing that moves—it is movement itself. Yin tends toward substantive, and in the process of this tendency it is already alternating toward dispersal. The constant alternating quality of movement is cyclic and rhythmic, and there is no end to this rhythm. Our culture has a linear view of time, and we are therefore terrified of death. Any tradition which has a beginning has an end. We imagine that in death we somehow “stop.” But nothing stops. And there is no first movement, because there would have to be something before it to generate it, ad-infinitum. And no amount of time deregulates the movement from Yin to Yang; the sun may be ancient, but its energy will disperse.
So how does this all apply to Astrology? First, our Character tends towards Yin or Yang. I am a Yang Fire Tiger, for example. Meaning, I tend towards the Yang impulse. Second, our Fate has Yin and Yang aspects. Meaning, some things we are fated to “do,” and some things are fated to happen of themselves. In general, our Fate cycles according to Yin-Yang. But these are the “details.” Without understanding the basic view that EVERYTHING is Yin-Yang, then trying to understand our Character and Fate is crazy making. We have to ask ourselves these basic questions again and again.
Every possible detail falls into either Yin or Yang, and the two are always turning into one another. We cannot make use of Astrology and fate calculation if we are hysterical over details. We study Astrology to see the cyclic pattern of our life, and Yin-Yang is the fundamental dynamic of all patterns. Without Yin-Yang we get lost in the details, and we miss out on true wisdom.
In my next blog, I will discuss how the Yin-Yang cycle further differentiates into the five-phases/elements. See you then.
In this blog, I would like to answer the question—what is the “universe” from the perspective of Polestar Astrology? In doing so, I would like to present the “big picture” of Astrology and how this view helps us to follow Astrology as a “wisdom path.”
The “Universe” is UNKNOWABLE. The Chinese tradition refers to the unknowable universe as Dao although that is not a direct translation (Dao has no English equivalent). A famous translation of the Dao De Jing goes something like, “that which can be known is not the Dao.” For those suffering from expertise, this may be disconcerting. Expertise is probably the biggest troublemaker in the world—assumed knowledge (especially of other people’s experience) is far more dangerous than conscious ignorance. One of my all time favorite quotes comes from a Christian mystic, Bernadette Roberts, “When you have learned it all and lived it thoroughly, then you had better get ready to have it all collapse when you discover the highest wisdom is that you know nothing.”
When we examine our experience, we find ourselves in a Cosmic Soup, in what the Chinese call Hun Tun. Within this Cosmic Soup, all Time and Space are an incomprehensible chaos. When we examine our experience closely, we are confronted with irresolvable, unending confusions brought about by analysis (scientism). In other words, the universe, the world, and our “self” appear to exist, but this appearance is dubious. When we actually try to find the objects referred to by these terms, we cannot. We find no particular time, place, or self. Rather, we find an infinite number of temporarily compounded “things,” each made up of smaller things, ad-infinitum, in the flow of ordinary experience, which is processional. And the universe, or Dao, as some kind of “Ultimate Reality,” is beyond conceptual elaboration, beyond the grasp of human thought. It is far too “big” to understand (duh!), which is the same as saying the universe is made up of things too small to understand.
Paradoxically, this Hun Tun, this irresolvable chaos is the source of every thing and every being. When we relax our need to know, our need to “figure everything out,” (scientism) we open the door to wisdom. When we embrace reality as incomprehensible, our experience opens up to what we can actually observe—temporary patterns of energy/light (qi). Our actual experience tells us that we are a weaving of “qi strands,” light waves. We are like a candle flame, a stream of energy that “appears” temporarily, displaying a certain pattern, which we call “Me/I” The world, too, appears to be solid and stable. But under close examination, the world is revealed as nothing but an appearance of cycling energy. What we know as the world, other people, events, and so on are merely the tendency of qi to look like “stuff,” crystallized by the conceptual process of labeling the unknowable.
I often make fun of western science because it seeks to "prove" through observation, and in trying to do so it proves itself wrong every five minutes. In the Chinese view, everything is fundamentally empty and ultimately unknowable, and therefore saying anything "conclusive" based on statistical data is foolishness. Wisdom Science does not operate from the assumption that anything reliable can be said about anything. The only reliable constant is change, and the patterns of change are all we seek to describe, and even these are not reliable as concepts. You may get cancer, but this will resolve in death. You may die, but this will resolve in birth. All we can say about health is "for whom, and when."
The view of Chinese Astrology, then, has two dimensions—the dual and the non-dual. Buddhism calls these the two truths, the ultimate and the relative.
In the non-dual view, we practice divination (fate calculation) in order to observe things “as they are,” to look into the fundamental nature of things, to break down our compulsion to predict, fix, or improve particular aspects of the limitless sea of Dao. Rather, we observe these patterns as compound and processional in order to recognize that we are too. The constant observation of flowing patterns, then, undermines our notions of a solid world and of an abiding self. When these notions fall away, what remains is the ever flowing nameless cosmos.
In this revelation, we experience ourselves and the world as a phantasm of light (qi).
This revelation, however, comes through the dual view of Astrology. In other words, what we divine through astrology is a dual (relative) vision, the dance of microcosm and macrocosm. As soon as we begin to name the patterns of qi, we separate them from the Chaos of Hun Tun and from the nameless Dao.
In the view of Chinese Astrology, the dual and the non-dual are not opposed; in fact, the non-dual contains the dual, and by investigating the weaving of the cosmic matrix we find ourselves in, we “unravel our fate.” Hun Tun is not vanquished, it is embraced, and we agree to be swept along in the cycles in which we are already flowing. In other words, our experience is already flowing, and by naming the patterns we find ourselves in, we define a sense of personal fate within the greater cycles. Through identifying our personal fate, our “karma,” we define a path composed of smaller cycles that we call health (our alchemical body) and happiness (our relationships).
By studying the dual vision of the universe, and by creating a personal sense of fate and freedom, we learn how to disentangle our qi from karmic debts (repeating patterns of depletion) and aggression (false views of a solid world and an abiding self). This disentanglement is called the resolution of fate. In the resolution of fate, we experience what the universe, the Dao, actually is—freedom, with no particular agenda.
This freedom appears to the conceptual mind as the irresolvable chaos I mentioned in the beginning, and because of our anxiety, we try to pin down and describe everything in order to get "control"(modern science). But when we are resolved of fate, this chaos relates openly with order, and the dual and non-dual are no longer experienced as two. In this, we experience our original nature, devoid of self/other, and yet freely generating character and fate. We find ourselves perfectly situated in the magnificent matrix of Dao—no self, no problem.
The resolution of fate is called “Great Completion,” the realization that everything is already harmonious, in Tibetan - Dzogchen, the “Great Perfection.” The universe (Dao) consists of cycles of fate (karma) moving from apparent Chaos to Great Completion and back again. These cycles, as I have mentioned in a previous blog, are self-resolving. Meaning, the universe is characterized by a kind of balance (yin/yang) which is self-correcting. Yin is always moving in the direction of yang, and yang is hurling in the direction of yin. Hence the famous yin-yang symbol depicted as one circle. Even when our life appears to be chaos, it is moving toward order. Completion comes when we recognize that perfection includes both chaos and order.
From the non-dual perspective, the universe is open space full of dancing light. From the dual perspective, this light vibrates/flows in cycles and “appears” as patterns, which we call “things,” people, places, planets, kittens, flowers, and so on. This experience of light, however, is unknowable. But it is an experience. In fact, Great Completion is demonstrated when we become we are—light having an experience of light. Those who experience Great Completion "light body" and leave behind no corpse, as Liu Ming’s teacher demonstrated. The Body of Light, however, is not a special experience; it is what the universe eventually does in the cycles of time.
Astrology as a wisdom path begins from the view that reality is an unknowable experience. We practice divination and study the cycles of change, time, space, character, and fate to undermine our notions of a solid world and of an abiding, separate self. So to answer, the original question—what is the universe? Chinese Astrology replies—unknowable. What we can “know” is only what we can observe, which is nothing but temporary appearance patterns.
In the following blogs, I invite you to come with me as I examine more of these temporary appearances. The Chinese Tradition of Polestar Astrology offers a complete cosmology, a complete picture of what it means to be a human being on earth. In the next blog, I will explore the concept of personal freedom through the “Five Element/Phase” cycle, what is called our “Inner Element.”
Tiger's Play--the View Teachings of Chinese Astrology
This page is your source for 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.