The Wisdom of Twelve

This is an excerpt from the introduction of my new book, “The 12 Chinese Animals – Create Harmony in Your Daily Life Through Ancient Chinese Medicine”, published by Singing Dragon and ready for purchase in Fall 2010.  It was also recently published in The Empty Vessel, a Eugene, OR based journal on contemporary Daoism.  I hope you enjoy reading about the wisdom of twelve.

The Wisdom of Twelve[1]

Living in harmony within family, among society, and with nature is the ancient Chinese way of life. People in China have been enjoying living in a very harmonious society for thousands of years, since at least the time period of the  Western Zhou Dynasty (1122 BCE – 771 BCE). In Chinese, we have an expression to illustrate this style of life, ye bu bi hu, lu bu shi yi (夜不閉戶, 路不拾遺), which means there is no need to close your door at night when you go to sleep, and you will be able to get your belongings back easily if you lose them because no one will take them away. In ancient China, there were no religions, no police, no taxes, and no lawyers. There was only a special kind of wisdom to guide Chinese people to cultivate their true humanity.  This true humanity contains the spirit of love, compassion, faith, courtesy, justice, and humbleness. With this true humanity, people are able to respect each other, support each other, and create a harmonious community together.

You might wonder what this wisdom is.  This wisdom is still being held in some ancient Chinese classics; Yijing (I Ching), is one of them. Yijing wisdom has guided countless Chinese to live in harmony in their daily life for thousands of years. One of the most important concepts in the Chinese wisdom traditions is trinity; three in one, is one. Yijing contains three secret and sacred layers of wisdom: symbology, numerology, and philosophy. This book will give you a little taste of this ancient Chinese wisdom.  By understanding the twelve animal symbols and twelve tidal hexagrams from Yijing wisdom, you will be able to learn a way to find your inner peace and live in harmony with your family, your community, and with nature

The wisdom of Yijing is vast; it looks like a tree of the universe. The roots of the tree embrace the entire earth and the tips of the tree hold the whole heavenly realm. There is a very tiny branch on this tree, called the twelve animal symbols system, which is related to your birth, your energetic life cycle or destiny, twelve tidal hexagrams of Yijing, and the cycle of nature. It is also a small sub-branch of the Yijing prediction system. As I emphasized in the Afterword of my book Seeking the Spirit of The Book of Change: 8 Days to Mastering a Shamanic Yijing (I Ching) Prediction SystemYijing prediction is magic, but it is also an art, a way of life, a way of nature, and it is a way of the universe. It is a way to express the great universal compassion, which gives birth to all beings and protects them.[2] The spirit of Yijing prediction or Change is to help people find a way to Change their lives and experience living in a consistently peaceful state, especially during difficult situations.  This prediction system provides a way for people to live in harmony.

Life is magic! Twelve animal symbols of Yijing wisdom is a way to help you to understand this magic, to help you live a harmonious life. In this book, I will share with you how these twelve animal symbols can help you understand your destiny.  By using the wisdom of the animal symbols as guides, you will be able to better understand your personality, and make choices that influence your health, relationships, career, finances, the colors you wear, and the food you eat, so that you live up to your greatest potential. It will be easier for you to apply the wisdom of the twelve animal symbols in your life if I provide you with  some fundamentals about the number 12, Chinese astrology and animal symbols, and the 8 trigrams and 12 tidal hexagrams of Yijing.

I. Numerological Meanings of 12

In ancient times, people lived closer to the cycles of nature and followed the way of nature. This harmonious lifestyle is patterned in a Chinese phrase, ri chu er zuo, ri luo er xi 日出而作,日落而息, which means ‘Sunrise, go to work; sunset, go to rest.’ Through their observation of nature, ancient Chinese understood 12 as an important number in their daily life.

In Chinese, the number 12 is Shier十二. It is a symbol for the universal clock, i.e. Shier Chen十二辰, representing both time and space. In Chinese cosmology, we certainly recognize the number twelve as contained in the twelve Chen辰 in a day (1 Chen is equal to two hour segments), the twelve months of a year, the twelve spiritual animals related to the Chinese zodiac, and the 12 years of a life cycle. The number 12 is described as the twelve Earthly Branches in Chinese tradition. The branches are representative of the waxing and waning of the two primal energies of Yin and Yang throughout daily or yearly cycles. As I explained in my book, Vital Breath of the Dao, the chaotic primordial Qi gave birth to two types of Qi:  heavy Qi and light Qi.  These two types moved in opposite directions.  The heavy Qi, Yin Qi descended to form the Earth, while the light Qi, Yang, rose to form Heaven.  These terms, Yin and Yang, allow people to understand any phenomena as the expression of opposites.[3] For example, in the cycles of nature, you have to understand the concept of night which is considered Yin, in order to understand the concept of day, which is considered Yang.  It is said that the knowledge of twelve Earthly Branches comes from ancient Chinese through thousands of years of observing astronomical phenomena.

The number twelve represents the energetic changes our bodies experience in a twelve Chen day, the twelve months of a year, and 12 years of a life cycle. In Chinese medicine, the number 12 also corresponds to the 12 organ meridian systems in the human body.  The human body itself is seen as a microcosmic representation of the macrocosm of the Universe. The number twelve stands for the 12 different energy patterns found in nature. Ancient Chinese shamans used the 12 tidal hexagrams of Yijing to describe the 12 energetic patterns of the microcosm (the human body) and the macrocosm (nature, and the Universe at large).

II. Chinese Astrology and 12 Animal Symbols

Are you familiar with Chinese astrology? You may think of the twelve animals of the zodiac commonly printed on restaurant menus. In actuality, Chinese astrology is vastly more complicated than this.

In the West, most information available to the public on how to find your Chinese animal symbol is incomplete and misleading. Many Chinese animal sign or horoscope books and popular websites will tell you that each animal symbol starts from the Chinese New Year in the Chinese Lunar calendar. This is, in fact, an incorrect method to find your animal symbol.

Generally speaking when most people talk about Chinese animal symbols, they are referring to the yearly animal symbol. For instance, if you were born in 1951, most readily available resources will tell you that your animal symbol is Rabbit, based on the assumption that 1951 is the Year of Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac system. Actually, being born in 1951 does not always mean you will have Rabbit as your animal symbol. Furthermore, according to Chinese astrology, you have at least 4 animal symbols in your birth chart! The yearly animal symbol is related to the energetic year in which you were born, the monthly animal symbol is related to the energetic month in which you were born, the daily animal symbol is related to the energetic day in which you were born, and the hourly animal symbol is related to the energetic hour in which you were born. I emphasize the energetic year, month, day, and hour because they are different concepts than those of the regular solar calendar.

Chinese Astrology is based on ancient Chinese cosmology and the Five Elements theory. Each individualized chart is a life reading that gives insight into a person’s past, present, and future. Through the chart, one can obtain guidance about health, career, relationships, and more.

An individual Chinese astrology chart is constructed with a Heavenly Stem and Earthly Branch for each year, month, date, and time of birth. The combination of a Heavenly Stem and Earthly Branch for each parameter is called One Pillar; all together they are called the SiZhu or Four Pillars. Each Pillar is composed of a Heavenly Stem and an Earthly Branch.  Thus, there are two characters per Pillar. With a total of Four Pillars, the entire chart is composed of eight characters. As such, the name for Chinese astrology is BaZi (eight characters).

It is said that Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches existed even before the invention of the Chinese characters, which the oldest recorded evidence dates back to 8000 years ago.[4] Numerous examples of the symbols for the Stems and Branches are seen in the unearthed ancient Chinese oracle bones from the Shang Dynasty (1766 to 1111 BCE).

As you can see, for any particular individual, there will be eight characters (BaZi) that reflect his or her personal energies. These are derived from all the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches, within the Four Pillars, that support the body. In other words, by understanding the energy of the macrocosmic Universe at a particular time, we can understand the microcosm of the individual.

In Chinese tradition, we commonly use the 12 animal symbols to represent the 12 Earthly Branches in the astrological chart, because it is easier for people to understand their destiny through the symbolic meaning of the animals. These 12 animal symbols are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. In The Beginning of this book, I will introduce the way to find your fundamental power animal symbols. You will then be able to learn the wisdom of your personal animals in subsequent chapters, which will support you living in harmony with your family and friends, your community, and with nature.

III. Eight Trigrams, 12 Tidal Hexagrams, and the Cycle of Nature

There are 12 very important hexagrams in Yijing system, known as the 12 tidal hexagrams. Each hexagram represents the energetic pattern of its related animal symbol in Chinese astrology. We often use the wisdom of these tidal hexagrams to give people guidance during a consultation.  Bagua, or Eight Trigrams, form the basis of Yijing. The entire Yijing text book is made of 64 hexagrams, and each hexagram is made up of two trigrams. Let me share some information about the trigrams before we further discuss the 12 tidal hexagrams.  I hope it will help you better understand each hexagram in this book.

Bagua is the model of the universe. Everything in existence, including every part of the body, can be classified by one of the trigrams. Ancient shamans understood this connection and they brought this connection into their interpretations of their divinations.[5] Trigrams are symbols made up of three lines, representing Heaven, Earth, and the Human Being, and reflect the universal energy. The Eight Trigrams are: Qian 乾 (Heaven), Dui 兌 (Marsh or Lake), Li 離 (Fire), Zhen 震 (Thunder), Xun 巽 (Wind), Kan 坎 (Water), Gen 艮 (Mountain), and Kun 坤 (Earth). Each line in a trigram will be either a solid line (–) or a broken line (–). The solid line is called the Yang 陽 line and the broken line is called the Yin 陰 line.

Now, let us let take a look some information about the 12 tidal hexagrams. The 12 tidal hexagrams are used to depict the energetic cycle of nature.  In Chinese, we call these hexagrams Shier Xiaoxi Gua 十二消息卦. Shier means twelve, while Xiao means decrease, reduce, waning, and xi means increase, gain, waxing; together, Xiaoxi means information, waxing and waning of the tides, or the changing faces of the moon. Gua means trigram or hexagram. In general, we translate Shier Xiaoxi Gua 12 tidal hexagrams.

These 12 tidal hexagrams stand for different energetic stages of the cycles of nature or life patterns. These 12 hexagrams help us to understand the 12 month yearly cycle of nature, to learn the 12 meridian systems of the body, and to make sense of the different stages of the life. The 12 tidal hexagrams are: Fu 復 (Rebirth), Lin 臨 (Deliver), Tai 泰 (Balance), DaZhuang 大壯 (Prosper), Guai 叏 (Transform), Qian 乾 (Strengthen), Gou 媾 (Copulate), Dun 遁 (Retreat), Pi 否 (Break), Guan 觀 (Observe), Bo 剝 (Peel), and Kun 坤 (Flow). These 12 also reflect the continuous cycle of energy change, for example, the rhythm of day turning into night, or the change of seasons.

You can look at the energetic pattern of the 12 hexagrams together and see that they depict a pattern of steadily increasing, then decreasing intensity.  This is the natural wave pattern of life.

Hexagram Fu 復 (Recover) Lin 臨 (Deliver), Tai 泰 (Balance), DaZhuang 大壯 (Prosper), Guai 叏 (Transform) Qian 乾 (Strengthen), represent the six waxing stages of the rising Yang energy pattern, until Yang reaches its peak.

Hexagram Gou 媾 (Copulate) Dun 遁 (Retreat) Pi 否 (Break) Guan 觀 (Observe Bo 剝 (Peel) Kun 坤 (Flow) illustrate the Yang energy dropping to its nadir and Yin energy rising to its zenith in the six stages of the declining Yang energy pattern.

Together, these 12 tidal hexagrams symbolize a perfect wave of life. I am sure that all of us have experienced times of great joy and times of sorrow. No one could live in their climax of life all the time. The Yijing wisdom of these 12 tidal hexagrams gives us great guidance to live harmoniously through different life stages. We will discuss some details of the hexagrams as they relate to their associated animal symbol later in this book. Traditionally, these 12 hexagrams are also used to describe your energy state during specific internal cultivation practices like meditation, Qigong and Taiji. I will share different internal cultivation methods connected with the 12 tidal hexagrams at the end of each chapter in the book. I hope you will be able to use the practices to better understand the wisdom the 12 animal symbols and the 12 tidal hexagrams, and to strengthen your life force and find your inner peace.

The chart below illustrates the aforementioned correspondences.

NumberOrder Earthly Branch Animal Hexagram Chen/Time Meridian
1 Zi Rat Fu 復 (Rebirth) 23:00 – 00:59 Gall bladder
2 Chou Ox Lin 臨 (Deliver) 01:00 – 02:59 Liver
3 Yin Tiger Tai 泰 (Balance) 03:00 – 04:59 Lung
4 Mao Rabbit DaZhuang 大壯 (Prosper) 05:00 – 06:59 Large intestine
5 Chen Dragon Guai 叏 (Transform) 07:00 – 08:59 Stomach
6 Si Snake Qian 乾 (Strengthen) 09:00 – 10:59 Spleen
7 Wu Horse Gou 媾 (Copulate) 11:00 – 12:59 Heart
8 Wei Goat Dun 遁 (Retreat) 13:00 – 14:59 Small intestine
9 Shen Monkey Pi 否 (Break) 15:00 – 16:59 Bladder
10 You Rooster Guan 觀 (Observe) 17:00 – 18:59 Kidney
11 Xu Dog Bo 剝 (Peel) 19:00 – 20:59 Pericardium
12 Hai Pig Kun 坤 (Flow) 21:00 – 22:59 Triple burner

Acknowledgements

Karin Elizabeth Taylor Wu provided editorial assistance for this article.

© 2010-2013 Zhongxian Wu


[1] This article is part of the Introduction of Master Wu’s new book, Twelve Chinese Animal Symbols.

[2] Wu, Zhongxian. Seeking the Spirit of The Book of Change: 8 Days to Mastering a Shamanic Yijing (I Ching) Prediction System. London: Singing Dragon. 2009: 213

[3] Wu, Zhongxian. Vital Breath of the Dao – Chinese Shamanic Tiger Qigong. St. Paul: Dragon Door Publication. 2006: 56

[4] Wu, Zhongxian. Vital Breath of the Dao – Chinese Shamanic Tiger Qigong. St. Paul: Dragon Door Publication. 2006: 10

[5] Wu, Zhongxian. Seeking the Spirit of The Book of Change: 8 Days to Mastering a Shamanic Yijing (I Ching) Prediction System. London: Singing Dragon. 2009: 67

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