A Broad Discussion on Ancient Chinese Culture (IV), Random Thoughts about ";Five Elements";

Tianliang Zhang

PureInsight | August 5, 2002

In Zhongshan Park, Beijing, stands an altar for the God of Land and the God of Grain. The soil in the altar has five distinctive colors: blue sits in the east, red south, white west, black north, and yellow in the center. If we take the central region as the center, the colors of the soil as well as their collection and directional arrays truthfully reflect the precision of the Chinese theory of Five Elements. In “Transcending the Five Elements and the Three Realms” in Lecture Two of Zhuan Falun, Mr. Li Hongzhi states “the Five Elements of metal, wood, water, fire, and earth constitute everything in our universe.” From my understanding, the scope of the “universe” mentioned here is small.

There exists a mutually promoting and checking relationship among the Five Elements. Specifically, the five promoting relations are: metal promotes water, water wood, wood fire, fire earth, and earth metal. The five checking relations are: metal checks wood, wood earth, earth water, water fire, and fire metal. Some people argued that wood can be used for fires, thus wood promotes fire, and water can be used to stop fires, thus water checks fire. That’s actually only how those elements manifest in this dimension. In reality, these promoting and checking relationships shouldn’t be understood on the surface. The Five Elements, “metal-wood-water-fire-earth” are not the “metal-wood-water-fire-earth” of our dimension. Likewise, the Four Great “land-water-fire-wind” Buddha Sakyamuni enlightened to aren’t the “land-water-fire-wind” seen in this dimension with our flesh eyes.

In different dimensions there exist different “metal-wood-water-fire-earth”. Fengshen Yanyi (the legend of Taoist heroes and gods who assisted King Wu of Zhou in overthrowing the depraved ruler Zhou of the Shang dynasty) offers a helpful example. Jiang Ziya captured the Piba (Chinese musical instrument) Demon when Chaoge was opening his fortune-telling office. First Jiang Ziya used strong fires made with dry wood in the human dimension to burn the demon but the demon remained completely intact. Then Jiang Ziya applied his Fa capabilities to send out the triple essence genuine fire, revealing the demon’s original identity. This example illustrates how fires in the human dimension differ from the divine fires.

Any life or matter has its structural foundation, a topic western science has been attempting to explore. However, their research methods went astray. “In ancient China, people made direct researches on the human body, life, and universe.” (From Zhuan Falun Volume II) Therefore, compared to the west, the ancient Chinese obtained more profound knowledge about the origin of life and matter. Those who first put forward the theory of the Five Elements disappeared long ago, leaving no traces for investigation. However, it is known that well before the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C), Chinese people came to understand that the Five Elements were the structural foundation for all things. Please note that what is referred to as all things does not only include what our flesh eyes can see such as steel and iron, soil, flowers, grass, trees, forests, animals, and humans but also abstract things such as time, seasons, locations, sound, color and morals. Thus, all these things maintain a naturally corresponding relationship with the Five Elements.

Let’s use some examples. In terms of space, the five directions/locations with corresponding relations with the five elements are: east belongs to wood, blue in color; west belongs to metal, white; south belongs to fire, red; north belongs to water, black; and the center belongs to earth, yellow. In terms of time, spring belongs to wood, summer to fire, fall to metal, winter to water, and between the seasons there are 18 days in total that belong to earth. This correspondence is rational. For example, spring belongs to wood, and therefore, it is full of flourishing and growing plants and forests; also spring winds tend to be in the east (the direction of “wood” among the five elements). Summer belongs to fire and it’s hot with winds of southern tendency. Fall belongs to metal, with west-inclined winds and withering plants because metal checks wood. Winter belongs to water, with north-inclined winds and it’s cold because water checks fire.

Time-wise, if we can compress a year into a day, the Chinese hours (a Chinese hour equals two Western hours) are set up to correspond to the Five Elements. In ancient China, 12 time periods were used for a day, each corresponding to the 12 terrestrial branches, namely “Zi-Chou-Yin-Mao-Chen-Si-Wu-Wei-Shen-You-Xu-Hai.” Period Zi is from 11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m., Period Chou from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m. and so on. In current Chinese, we can still find expressions with traces of ancient Chinese time periods. For example, the Chinese term for “roll call” is made up of two characters, “counting” and “Mao.” That comes from the fact that in ancient times official meetings started at Period Mao. The term used to describe noon is exactly the same character as “Wu,” which correspondends to 12 PM. According to the corresponding relationship of the Five Elements, Periods Yin and Mao belong to wood, a time when the sun rises in the east; Periods Chen and Si belong to fire, a time when the sun is in the south and when it is the hottest of the day; Periods Shen and You belong to metal, a time when the sun sets in the west; Periods Hai and Zi belong to water, a time of the long deep night. Periods Chen, Wei, Xu, and Chou belong to earth. Like the 12 terrestrial branches, there are 10 heavenly stems, namely “Jia-Yi-Bing-Ding-Wu-Ji-Geng-Xin-Ren-Gui,” which also belong to corresponding elements. Among them, Jia and Yi belong to wood, Bing and Ding belong to fire, Wu and Ji belong to earth, Geng and Xin belong to metal, and Ren and Gui belong to water. Ancient people didn’t use the solar calendar for times. They always matched heavenly stems and terrestrial branches to indicate time whether it was for the year, month, day, or the time period, e.g.: Year Jia-Zi, Month Bing-Chen, Day Wu-Xu, and Period Ren-Hai. The so-called eight digits of birth (two digits each for the year, month, day, and period) came from this.

Furthermore, morals, music, and even the human body all correspond to the Five Elements. Typical examples can be made from what Confucius taught as Five Regularities, namely “Kindness, Justice, Courtesy, Wisdom, and Integrity/Credibility”. Among them, Kindness belongs to wood for its growing strength; Justice belongs to metal for its firmness; Courtesy belongs to water for its modesty and humbleness; Wisdom belongs to fire for its sagacity and rationality; Integrity belongs to earth for its simplicity and solemnity. In music there were five pitches, “gong, shang, jiao, zhi, yu”. Among them, “gong” belongs to earth, “shang” to metal, “jiao” to wood, “zhi” to fire, and “yu” to water. Human beings have five internal organs, “heart, lungs, liver, spleen, and kidneys”. Among them, “spleen” belongs to earth, “lungs” to metal, “liver” to wood, “heart” to fire, and “kidneys” to water. The principle behind each corresponding relationship deserves a book to elaborate. Only a few examples are listed here because the length of this article is restricted.

The corresponding relationship looks simple but it’s in fact extraordinary because to a certain extent it reveals the foundation of life and matter. For instance, everyone knows that wood can be used to produce paper, which is common sense. When carefully thinking this over, it’s found that two indispensable conditions are involved. One is that people must first understand that both wood and paper have a common foundation of matter, namely fiber. The other is that energy under the control of people can return wood to fiber and then re-arrange fiber into paper. From this perspective, what appear to be mysterious supernormal capabilities, such as transforming iron into gold, becomes a piece of cake to a life who controls higher levels of energy. This is because both iron and gold belong to the Five Element category of “metal”. And he uses his energy to transform iron to its original “metal” state of the Five Elements. Then he re-arranges it according to that of gold, therefore turning iron into gold.

All things correspond to the Five Elements; hence a correlation develops among all things. Understanding this correlation enables people to be in control of life and the universe from both a macroscopic and holistic approach. According to a report from Australia, a small number of people abused public property at railroad stations and every year the railroad administration had to spend a lot of money on repairs. Then it was recommended that classical music be played at the stations to solve the problem. As a result, the abusive behavior declined tremendously.

To apply the Western Chaos Theory to explain the case in Australia may lead to a lot of mathematical models and massive computer data processing before a convincing answer could ever be generated. When applying the Five Elements, everything is simple. More than 2000 years ago, Si Maqian stated in “On Music” in his Shiji (Historical Legends) “Shang stimulates the lungs and harmonizes with Justice; Jiao stimulates the liver and harmonizes with Kindness…” The connection between music and human structure and between music and human conduct is very clearly expressed (Among the five musical pitches, “shang” belongs to metal, and among the five human internal organs “lungs” belong to metal, and among the five regularities “Justice” belongs to metal.). According to the Five Elements, it’s little wonder that music affects human conduct.

To observe ancient Chinese culture from the perspective of the Five Elements, one experiences “Climbing Mount Tai and knowing the world” because all subjects of learning follow one stream and connect with each other by one principle. In ancient China, there were many talented people. Zhu Geliang, mentioned in Sanguo Yanyi ('Legend of Three Kingdoms'), was able to handle and solve situations as a military strategist planner who consistently defeated his adversaries by a wide margin. He was very knowledgeable in astronomy, geography, meteorology, music, law, mechanics, governing, and even in Daoist supernormal abilities, such as becoming invisible. All this is indeed incredible to a modern man. Because he was able to understand higher level principles, looking at things from a high level, everything appeared crystal-clear to him.

Si Maqian exclaimed in his Bao-ren-an Shu, “Zhou-I evolved while Wen-wang was detained; Confucius produced Chun-Qiu when he was in adversity; Qu Yuan composed Lisao when he was in exile; Zuo Qiu wrote Guoyu when he lost his vision; Sun Tse wrote 300 Shi on military strategies when he lost his kneecap. Sacred and virtuous beings usually stage good performance during their difficult times…” When I was reading this section, I knew that there is another important exhibition of the Five Elements in the human dimension, namely “mutually promoting and checking”. “When people try to accomplish something, they encounter difficulty precisely because the principle of mutual-generation and mutual-inhibition exists.” (From “Buddha-Nature and Demon-Nature” in Falun Dafa: Essentials for Further Advancement) There was a historical arrangement for them to do some things leaving it for people to come. According to the principle of mutual-generation and mutual-inhibition, they had to endure pain and suffering beyond those borne by everyday people.

The theory of the Five Elements plays an integral role in the ancient spiritual culture of China. The light of wisdom this theory transmits is not something that the human level can perceive and possess. However, this theory is not the highest understanding on the universe and life. Taichi is much higher than the Five Element theory. Nevertheless, Taichi is only a low-level Dao when compared with the highest cosmic great Fa, Falun Dafa.

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