Yin Yang and Five Elements — Meaning, Content, History, and Applications in Tradition of China
Nowadays, those terms, Taiji, Yin Yang, Four Images, and Five Elements, sound mysterious and sometimes connected with being superstitious. They are important parts of the Taoism Religion, Fengshui, and divination.
However, they are also the essence of ancient Chinese Cosmology and Philosophy.
Taiji — Yin Yang —Four Images — Five Elements
In ancient Chinese Cosmology, the whole universe was believed undifferentiated and oneness.
This is Taiji, the beginning of the cosmos.
Gradually, Yin and Yang evolved out of the Taiji.
Yang is about releasing energy, which represents those that are upward active, bright, expand, exocentric, masculine, and lively.
Yin is about contracting energy, which is downward, passive, dark, accumulated, introverted, feminine, and quiet.
Everything in the world has both Yin and Yang side; they are in constant motion and mutual transformation.
The motion of Yin and Yang, then, generates the Four Images.
The transitions between Yin and Yang are the Lesser Yin and Lesser Yang.
Lesser Yang - Yang - Lesser Yin - Yin can be:
Spring - Summer - Autumn - Winter, and
Birth - Grow - Old - Die, and
Wood - Fire - Metal - Water and
East - South - West - North.
All lives birth out of and come back to the earth; four seasons change under the Moon and the Sun.
So, the Moon and the Sun together constitute a Taiji, which contains both Yin and Yang; it corresponds to the earth on the ground.
Then the Five Elements are formed.
Five Elements — Meaning
The Five Elements Theory is a philosophical term in ancient Chinese culture, which defines the nature and attributes of everything in the universe and its movements.
The Wood, Fire, Metal, Water, and Earth are five specific representatives, or symbols, of the Five Elements.
Wood: growth, development, extension;
Fire: hotness, upward, bright;
Metal: convergence, concretion, solid;
Water: cold, downward, circulate, nourish;
Earth: mild, placid, neutralization.
Generating and Restraining Cycles of the Five Elements
The only permanent thing is changing.
Therefore, all the elements in the universe are in constant motion, which constituents interactions between the Five Elements.
They can create or overcome one another.
Wood → Fire: branches can create fire
Fire → Earth: burnt ashes becomes earth
Earth → Metal: metal ores are formed inside the earth
Metal → Water: melted metal will be liquid
Water → Wood: water nourishes wooden plant
Metal ⌦ Wood: metal tools can cut off plants
Wood ⌦ Earth: roots of trees grow inside of the earth and prevent soil erosion
Earth ⌦ Water: dykes and dams can stop the flood
Water ⌦ Fire: water can put out a fire
Fire ⌦ Metal: fire melts metal into liquid
Origin of Yin - Yang and Five Elements
It’s quite possible that the Ancient Chinese Cosmology was more of collective intelligence, however, there are some famous kings that are related to the invention of this theory.
Fu Xi, an honorable king from around 5000 years ago, used to observe the universe, trying to figure out a general rule.
Soon, he got two pictograms (named He Tu Luo Shu) from mythical creatures, from which he concluded Yin - Yang, Five Elements, and Eight Diagrams.
In the Book of Documents and the Book of Changes, the theory was mentioned.
These two ancient books were written and preserved in some ancient royal places, and then organized and edited by Confucius (551 B. C. — 479 B. C.) in centuries later.
Application of of Yin - Yang and Five Elements
Chinese Astronomy and Calendar
In ancient astronomy, the moon is Yin, while the sun is Yang.
The Five Elements correspond to five bright stars, Jupiter (wood), Mars (fire), Saturn (earth), Venus (metal), and Mercury (water).
According to the Inter Generating Order (Wood → Fire → Earth → Metal → Water), each of these five stars shows up for 72 days in the Arctic sky in turn, which corresponds to the changing of the seasons on the earth.
Meanwhile, based on the movement of the five stars (moving toward the earth is Yang while moving away is Yin), ancient Chinese created the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches System to record and count in the Traditional Chinese Calendar.
Chinese Medicine and Food Therapy
A human’s body is considered a complete cycle, which contains a whole system of Yin Yang and Five Elements.
Important organs, emotions, and food all correspond to the Five Elements, based on their different attributes.
Emotion and diet may influence certain organs with the same attributes.
Therefore, the Balance of Yin and Yang and the Neutralization of the Five Elements is the essence of Chinese Medicine and Food Therapy.
Wood: Spring — Eye, Liver, Gallbladder — Anger — Sour — Green Colored Food
Fire: Summer — Tongue, Heart, Small Intestine — Happy — Bitter — Red Colored Food
Earth: Long Summer — Mouth, Spleen, Stomach — Think — Sweet — Yellow Colored Food
Metal: Autumn — Nose, Lung, Large Intestine — Sad — Spicy — White Colored Food
Water: Winter — Ear, Kidney, Bladder — Fear — Salty — Black Colored Food
Take “Wood” for instance: in spring, or when someone’s eye, liver, or gallbladder feel uncomfortable, or for irritable people, it’s good to eat sour flavor or green colored food.
Name and the Five Elements
Nowadays, many Chinese parents still would name their babies based on the Five Element theory.
Since the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches is the counting system of the Chinese Calendar; based on a person’s birth year, month, date, and hour, one’s Five Elements’ attribute can be calculated.
In order to balance the Five Elements, parents would use Chinese Characters that have the baby’s least attribute.
For instance, if someone has no or few Element of Fire, his or her name can use Chinese Characters that contain the Fire part.
Also, people can use the Inter Generating relationship to name their child; the father or mother’s attribute can generate the baby’s attribute.
For instance, if the father has the most Element of Water, then his child can use Chinese Characters that contain the Wood (water generates wood) part.
These two principles also apply to name a company or choose a place with a good name to live in.
Yin Yang and Five Elements in Feng Shui
Every person has his or her own attribute of the Five Elements, so does every house or apartment.
Wood: East — 3rd or 8th Floor — Cyan
Fire: South — 2nd or 7th Floor — Red
Earth: Middle — 5th or 10th Floor — Yellow
Metal: West — 4th or 9th Floor — White
Water: North — 1st or 6th Floor — Black
Color and material of the inside decorations also follow the theory.
For instance, green plants go to the east, the fish tank will be on the north, etc.
Fundamental Theory of the Divination
Throughout Chinese history, there have been several ways to predict someone’s future, or to pray for the blessing from ancestors or celestial beings, the Yin Yang and Five Elements is always the fundamental theory.
Nowadays, fortune telling, using someone’s time of birth and attribute of Five Elements, is still quite popular in China.
Read More in Ancient Classic The I Ching
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