The Three Motives of the Mantic Arts—an introduction to the practice and system of Zĭ Wēi Dŏu Shù 紫微斗數 (Polestar Astrology)
This will be the first blog in a series exploring the system of Fate Calculation in Chinese Polestar Astrology, a task I have been avoiding due to the sheer magnitude of information I have learned on the subject but have yet to organize. In my previous blogs, I spent a considerable amount of time introducing the basic teachings of Chinese Astrology—ancestors, yin-yang, the five phases of Qi, and the 12 Qi Characters of Destiny/ “Animals,” making sure to cover each of the 12 Zodiac Animals in detail.
Polestar Astrology teaches that life is a dance, a reciprocity, 感應, between three factors—Character, Nature, and Fate. The purpose of the 12-part series on the Zodiac Animals was to introduce/explore the idea of Qi Character, or Xing 性, the notion that Time (Qi) itself is characterized and that we can use symbols to describe that Character, and therefore, ourselves, for we are living embodied expressions of Time. The purpose of this series is to introduce the idea of Ming, 命, or Fate. I will conclude with a series on Nature, 道德, which is perhaps the most important and yet most difficult to discuss.
Everything I have discussed thus far has been general Chinese Astrology, and it is now (finally!) time to delve into the ACTUAL system of Natal Astrology/Fate Calculation, which is what I do with clients. This system is widely unknown, for like Daoism, the authentic lineages of this tradition have been lost but continue to exist in fragmented/watered down forms. It has survived in China as a kind of folky “fortunetelling,” which it absolutely is NOT.
The true tradition of Chinese Mantic Arts is a complete spiritual path that synthesizes many Chinese traditions, which I have been trying to piece together for many years in the footsteps of Liu Ming, who received lineage transmission and texts on the subject through his Daoist teacher. The tradition includes Feng Shui and can also be called “Astro-Geomancy,” for the subjects are two sides of the same coin. Ming also taught Feng Shui at the Golden Gate Academy for many years, but I have yet to delve into the subject.
The information Liu Ming taught on Polestar Astrology cannot be found in any books. Some of it was oral transmission, some was translated from ancient texts, and a lot of it he figured out in the 800, or so, astrology readings he did over several decades. I have done about 170 since I started doing readings three years ago, so I’m catching up. My knowledge on the subject, however, is by no means complete. I do, however, feel somewhat capable of doing the subject justice, and I will flesh this out over the rest of my life.
There are no “how to” books on this subject, because there is an unspoken agreement that no one would ever write one, an agreement based on the assumption that the tradition would survive this “dark age.” Maybe they have survived in China; I wouldn’t really know, because I haven’t been there, but as far as I can tell this tradition may die out. Or, at the very least, it will fail to be transplanted here.
Across the world, “secret” (or better private) traditions are being published widely in the hope that they survive modernity. Yes, there are general books out there about Polestar Astrology, but they are, for the most part, useless in terms of interpretation. Kwok Man-Ho’s book, for example, is 700 pages and contains almost no information. It is for this reason that I write this series. In the United States, the only people I know who offer authentic Polestar Astrology readings are Ming’s students, who are few and far between. Ming himself had the intention of writing a book on the subject, but he never did, despite teaching many classes and producing copious notes, many of which I will draw from in the following blogs. It is possible for his students to “edit” his notes into a book, but I would rather just write the book, giving full credit to Ming as the source and inspiration.
Much of the “living transmission” on the subject I received from my teacher Dharma Bodhi, who studied with and lived next to Ming for many years. I have hunted down old students and put together many notes that may have otherwise been lost.
Zĭ Wēi Dŏu Shù, also called Polestar or Purple Star Astrology, teaches us how to understand, navigate, and ultimately unravel something the Chinese call 命 Ming, which we translate as Fate, the Mandate of Heaven, and sometimes Destiny (which is really a different idea altogether). The following series of blogs, then, will attempt to unravel this bewildering concept in terms of the 12-Houses and “Stars” of the Polestar System, which are poetical symbols describing the nature of Fate.
I will preface this by saying that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT FATE IS. I have been wrestling with the concept for many years, and the more I understand it, the less I know. I will do my best to explore it in terms of my experience, but I do so from a place of humility and open ended curiosity. I have no answers, for there are no answers in Astrology—only more questions. Whatever Fate is, it is enormous, and like Karma (a similar idea from India), only a Buddha can understand it.
Zĭ Wēi Dŏu Shù 紫微斗數
So, what is Zĭ Wēi Dŏu Shù? In short—divination. But otherwise, it is not entirely clear, for its origins are shrouded in mystery. It appeared in China in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) and was further developed in the Song Dynasty (960-1280 CE) as a response to the influx of Indian Astrology brought by Buddhist monks. Prior to this period, China had no well-developed form of Natal Astrology, despite the many thousands of years of Astrological calculation that preceded Zĭ Wēi Dŏu Shù.
It never occurred to the Chinese that any individual was significant, not even the Emperor, so they never bothered with Natal Astrology. But, with the influx of Indian Medicine, Astrology, religion, and so on, it became popular to get Natal readings, because Indians brought to China the idea of a “self” with a story. So, the Chinese decided to create their own version of Natal Astrology that expressed Chinese values. The values of this system are a synthesis of Daoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, and I will draw upon all three for my understanding in an attempt to connect them to modern life.
The tradition has a largely Daoist pedigree, and the main teachers credited with its creation are Lu Chun Yang, 呂純陽, during the Tang Dynasty, Chen Xi Yi, 陳希夷, during the Song Dynasty, and Luo Hong Xian, 羅洪先, during the Ming Dynasty. There is also an oral tradition that attributes it to the Daoist Immortal Chen Tuan, 陳摶, who is the progenitor of Yun Gong, 雲功, or Dream (literally cloud) Yoga in the Liu Family Tradition, which will be the subject of another future blog series.
The system is named after Zĭ Wēi, the Polestar/NorthStar, the only star in the sky which does not move, which every culture on Earth has used since time immemorial to guide themselves home. It is the pivot of Chinese Astrological/Astronomical calculations. The Polestar changes every few thousand years due to the movement of the Earth, and in this age, the Polestar is Polaris, which the Ladle of the Big Dipper points to year-round.
The Chinese observed that everything in the heavens moves except for this one star, which was to them quite significant. The Chinese called it the Emperor, and Zĭ Wēi Dŏu Shù teaches that all Fate is recorded and distributed from this pivot (not literally of course).
The Daoist tradition of Polestar Astrology talks of Nine Heavenly Realms that we transverse on our way back to Source upon completion of our Human Fate, 大圓. The Polestar is a symbolic representation of the Yang Light emanating from the Ninth Heaven that facilitates the celestial currents of Ancestral Fate resolution throughout our world-system. These currents are sometimes called the Empyrean Matrix.
The term Zĭ Wēi literally refers to a kind of flower, which some believe to be the Purple Myrtle flower. Zi, 紫, means purple, and Wei, 微, in this case, means something delicate, fragile, subtle, and profound—a flower, a metaphor for Fate. Dŏu refers to the Big Dipper, and Shù here means calculation.
The system is also called Purple Star or Flying Star Astrology, and it is associated with a transmission from Shang Qing 上清 Daoism, associated with teachings that manifest from realms of Purple Light. The tradition was said to have been downloaded to Earth through trance mediums/shamans 巫 from beings called the Jade Ladies, 玉女, (there are also Golden Lads 金童) from the “Purple Library,” an Immortal Realm that serves as an intermediary between Heaven and Earth. All the teachings from this time are called the Purple Teachings. Earlier transmissions in China were called the Yellow Teachings, associated with the Yellow Emperor.
Jade Ladies are like Dākinīs in Tantra, or Angles in the West, enlightened feminine beings who hold and transmit Dharma teachings. Chogyam Trungpa called them inspiration beings and said that inspiration is the body of the Dākinī. When you feel alive, inspired, and wisdom/insight pours through you, the Jade Ladies are said to be giggling around you.
Jade Ladies are depicted as teenage girls made of purple light who appear in dreams/visions. Wherever they gather, amethyst crystal is said to form. 西王母 Xi Wang Mu, the Queen Mother of the West, the Daoist Female Immortal who presides over this tradition with Zhen Wu, 真武, is said to fly around the world touching those who will become Immortal. Jade Ladies gather around whomever she touches and transmit teachings from the Purple Library. There are many poems from the Shang Qing period that describe the Jade Ladies as muses, who come and go, often creating despair in their absence. Shang Qing Daoism is a highly detailed and complex spiritual path that views the Stars of the Polestar System as Deities. It is like Tantra, which developed around the same time, also from Deities through trance mediumship.
This series of blogs will systematically explore 36 “Stars” from the Polestar System. Polestar Astrology does not reference the Planets of our solar system like Western and Indian Astrology, but rather it refers to the nature of Stars in significant constellations like the Big Dipper. Some systems use up to 108 Stars, but we will focus on what are considered the most important 36, with an emphasis of the “Royal Court,” the Twelve Ruling Stars of Fate.
The Stars symbolically describe the Nature of Fate. Since the system was developed for and by/in the Chinese Imperial Court, each Star is a character in the Chinese Imperial Court, ruled by the Emperor and Empress. The Stars, and therefore Fate, fall into two categories Yang and Yin—the Northern and Southern Array, led by the Emperor and Empress respectively.
However, it is very important to understand that Chinese Astrology is NOT “Astronomical” but mathematical. Polestar Astrology has astronomy in its distant past, but a Polestar Chart does not depict the night sky. There is no illusion that this is an accurate depiction of where these constellations were at the time of your birth. The system is said to have been “revealed” by patterns observed in the sky, but these patterns are mathematical and said to be an “independent influence” that forms/shapes the causes and conditions of Fate. Polestar Charts are calculated by numerical equations/numerology, depicting sequences of Time beyond the physical reality of Stars in the sky. It is better referred to as Chronology rather than Astrology.
Many of these constellations/stars have today disappeared, which to the Chinese mind makes them more potent, for they have gone to the realm of the Ancestors. So, although some of the Stars do have the names of currently known astronomical bodies, what we call “Stars” in this system are better understood as poetical representations of Fate, mathematical patterns found in Nature, an endless spin of celestial Qi.
The Stars of the Celestial Court and their various arrangements when interpreted become a form of Divination or Mantic Art. But who and what is being divined? The standard Chinese answer is the dead – our Ancestors, our life before birth. The Stars form an image of the precedent/cause of our birth and can be interpreted as a both a symbolic and literal picture of our Ancestors, which I will explain in more detail as we go through each Star. In short, the dead run the living.
The Yang Stars represent Patriarchal Fate associated with “action/doing,” and the Yin Stars represent Matriarchal Fate associated with “receptivity/being.” In this tradition, we are intimately connected with the dead, and we must play out the patterns of unfinished business we inherit at birth before we can experience the Freedom of our Original Nature.
Ming might say that we are the warm wiggling end of thousands of dead people, responsible for at least seven generations of beings. When we get a human body, we inherit the unfinished business, gifts, talents, and so on, from all the bodies that preceded our body – it’s the tax we pay for birth. Fate is said to be a “Mandate” that comes from our Ancestors to complete what they could not. The Twelve Ruling Stars represent our accomplished Ancestors; the rest are what the Chinese refer to as Gui, 鬼, or Ghosts, “unfinished business,” which I will cover in detail.
The Buddhist interpretation suggests that the Stars represent our past life Karma, which is the cause of our re-birth, and that we are here to finish our own unfinished Karma from past lives. Both are possible interpretations.
Traditionally, you would receive a Qi Transmission of each Star in ceremony. You would hear a description and then be shown an image and receive a Mantra for each Star, which were often thought of as Deities. Since I never got to have that experience, I can’t comment on it, although I have gotten some of this through dreams.
Here is a list of the 36 Stars that represent every conceivable pattern of Fate that we will explore in the following blogs:
The Four Rulers
紫微 Zi Wei – The Emperor
天府 Tian Fu – The Empress
天相 Tian Xiang – The Tutor
天機 Tian Ji – The Oracle
The Four Honorables
太陽 Tai Yang – The Sun/Prince
武曲 Wu Qu – The General
太陰 Tai Yin – The Moon Lady/Princess
巨門 Ju Men – The Great Gate
The Four High Ranking
天同 Tian Tong – The Vassal
天梁 Tian Liang – The Roof Beam
文昌 Wen Chang – The Magistrate
文曲 Wen Qu – The Priest
The Four Major Ghosts
廉貞 Lian Zhen – The Concubine
七殺 Qi Sha – The Seven Killings/Executioner
貪狼 Tan Lang – The Greedy Wolf
破軍 Po Jun – The Rebel/Breaking Rank
The Four Minor Ghosts
火星 Huo Xing – The Fire Star
鈴星 Ling Xing – The Water/Ringing Star
擎羊/羊刃 Qing Yang/Yang Ren – the Goat Blade/Sacrifice Star
陀羅 Tuo Luo – The Humpback/Rejection Star
The Four Incidentals
右弼 You Bi – The Right Assistant
左輔 Zou Fu – The Left Assistant
祿存 Lu Cun – The Storehouse
天姚 Tian Yao – The Beauty Star
The Orphan Spirits
天魁 Tian Kui – The Leader
天喜 Tian Xi – The Happiness Star
天鉞 Tian Yue – The Halberd Star
地劫 Di Jie – The Loss Star
地空 Di Kong – The Void/Empty Earth Star
天刑 Tian Xing – The Punishment Star
天馬 Tian Ma – The Travel/Heavenly Horse Star
紅鸞 Hong Luan – The Red Bird
The Four Transformers
化祿 Hau Lu – The Salary/Prosperity Star
化權 Hua Quan – The Authority Star
化科 Hua Ke – The Examination Star
化忌 Hau Ji – The Jealousy/Scandal Star
Again, I will cover each of these stars in blogs to come.
The Three Motives of the Mantic Arts
This tradition is a “Mantic” Art, a form of “Divination.” Humans have always had a deep curiosity and/or a fundamental instinct for survival; we’ve been divining the ways of Heaven and Earth for as long as we’ve been around. Divination (related to Shamanism) is the “old religion” and, in a way, lies behind all the world’s religions, and, in the broadest sense, lies behind all human culture.
Divination is the curiosity about and attempt to shape the direction of Time and experience. You may have philosophies, teachings, stories, and so on, but as soon as you try to make these practical, apply them to experience, you are attempting to shape the future, you are Divining, and your teachings or “view” will determine the fruition of your methods.
The future is unformed, empty, but the “present moment” has momentum (called the past), expectations, and direction, which can be read and shaped. Every spiritual tradition is trying to do this in one way or another. Every culture has systems of divination, such as Tarot, Astrology, the Yi-Jing, Bird Song, Tortoise Shells, and on. This tradition takes this premise and turns it into a deliberate path called “Resolving Fate,” which is the purpose and fruition of Zĭ Wēi Dŏu Shù.
So, what is the view of the Mantic Arts? Traditionally there are three views or motivations for practicing divination—fear, advantage, and wisdom. Before we get started, it is important to examine which of these motivates you. These motives can apply to anything you do in life. It is important to be honest. This tradition emphasizes wisdom as the path, but we may unconsciously be operating from all three.
Simply put, humans are freaked out about the future and want to feel better; we want to feel in control. Divination is most often used to “predict” calamity and provide safety out of a fear of the unknown. This is fine. Used in this way, Divination provides knowledge of possible futures so that we can avoid “punishment” for our misdeeds, bad karma, ancestral ghosts, and so on. Divination from the motivation of Fear often seeks “answers” as to why life is so difficult—why does this keep happening to me? Fear is not bad, for it often gets us started on the path. However, it is limited, emotionally painful, and will only take us so far.
The second motive is advantage. We learn and practice Astrology to get one-up on the Universe. Although fear is often still the underlying motive, Astrology used for advantage is usually a lot more fun. We use Astrology to become better people, to learn more about our patterns so that we can do better in life. This kind of Astrology is often about timing, knowing when to advance and retreat. It can be used to predict the stock market, when to invest, when to start a business, when to get married, whom to marry, when to buy a house, when to have children, and so on. This motive is also fine, but it often stays superficial, and we end up creating more and more Fate in the process of trying to control our Fate, rather than being free of it altogether. The clear majority of Astrology I see out there is done with this motive. It often looks spiritual, but beneath the surface, many use Astrology as a tool to gain advantage over a scary world. I have tried to use Astrology for personal advantage, but I’m not very good at it, lol.
Wisdom – Cultivating the Way
The situation we find ourselves in is a cosmic soup in which all Time and Space are an Irresolvable Chaos, called Huntun 餛飩. When we look closely at our situation, we find no particular time, place, or self but the patterned appearance of these factors bewilders us for lifetimes. Reality appears to be ordered/patterned, but analysis brings no certainty, and the illusion of knowledge is big trouble.
Analysis brings with it an irresolvable confusion that humans have debated about since time immemorial, called Religion/Science. Modern Science/Scientism tells us that we are close to figuring it all out, but I’m not too sure. When we look closely, chaos appears to be the source of all things, and this is the Paradox that lies at the heart of our experience—qi strands of Time and Space weave together to form an unreadable astro-geomantic pattern the Chinese call Dao.
What is the unknowable Dao doing? Constantly displaying itself as dualistic, ephemeral, impermanent, dream like phenomena called a self/world. What appears to be knowable and that which is unknowable are in fact not different, for the dual world is a continuous expression of the non-dual. The microcosm of our personal Fate mirrors the macrocosm of the nameless Dao. Through relaxed observation this becomes apparent.
The spiritual path of the Mantic Arts, and the true purpose of this tradition, comes through embracing the irresolvable. Relaxing our need to know/understand becomes the direct path to wisdom. The dual-world we are divining, called an Astrology Chart, which appears to be comprehensible, reveals Pattern within Chaos and Pattern as Chaos. Astrology becomes a mirror that reflects our Original Nature which is beyond concepts (the meaning of Chaos).
Our practice is to investigate the weave or matrix of patterns that make up our experience through the symbols of the Polestar System. Without any compulsion to predict, fix, or improve, any particular part, our false notions of an abiding self and world unravel. Chaos is never vanquished; Samsara is never fixed/improved. It is reveal as Dao.
The Mantic Arts are a non-dual revelation of things as they are. Life is revealed as an ever-flowing phantasm of light that cannot be named/known, and we agree to be swept up in whatever has been “pre-ordained” by our Ancestors. Polestar Astrology simple points the way.
The fruition of this tradition, then, is called 大圓 Da Yuan, the Great Completion, similar to what Tibetans call Dzogchen, the Great Perfection. Ming named his school after this teaching. The Resolution of Fate comes through the realization of the perfect completion of things as they already are. Everything that has ever happened/will ever happen is a perfect demonstration of your Original Nature, no matter how you feel about it. You have always been light having an experience of light. Like Ming’s teacher, those who realize the Great Completion do not leave behind a corpse but rather demonstrate their completion in a Body of Light. When we discuss the teachings on Inner Nature, we will examine our experience as a rainbow of five colored lights.
Fate, Freedom, and Reciprocity
Unlike the West, China has never argued about fatalism and free will. It has long been understood that one cannot exist without the other; they alternate, blend, and define each other. Freedom, or open space, is the main experience we are in. Therefore, our Astrology Chart is defined by our choices, by how we use our Freedom in response to our Fate, and as I covered in the 12-Animal series, how we use our Freedom to cultivate our Character.
There is no auspicious chart. The auspice of any chart is made by what the Chinese call Ganying, 感應, or reciprocity—the relationship between Character, Freedom, and Fate is a reciprocity determined by choice. We find our life in the play/dance of these factors, and Astrology is found in the dialogue between them.
The next blog of the Fate series will cover the 12 Houses of a Natal Chart. Given my life/schedule, it will be a slow journey, but I look forward to it nonetheless. Stay tuned!
Tiger's Play--the View Teachings of Chinese Astrology
This page is your source for short, pithy articles on the view teachings of Chinese Astrology. Here, I will share everything I have learned about how to follow Astrology as a spiritual path.