This is part five of a series by Jonathan Edwards on the clinical use of the Yijing in Chinese medicine.
Part 5 – Fleshing out the Bagua
“What we’re doing here is so important, we’d better not take it too seriously!” – Suzuki Roshi. Last time we met the first four trigrams, in two yin-yang pairs: Qian and Kun, the cosmic parents, and their elemental children, Kan and Li. The four of them even treated us to a little fashion show, strutting down the runway to show off their contrasting natures. Recall: Qian was our big papa, pure yang, the male primogenitor of the universe. Kun was his counterpart, the complementary receptive and formative force, universal mother, pure yin. Qian is heaven, Kun earth. Then, Li and Kan presented us with another powerful duality, this time between Fire and Water. Firey Li turned out to be soft in the middle (with a yin line sandwiched between two yang), while watery Kan had the opposite mojo (yang in the midst of yin). Interestingly, it’s the odd-one-out lines that tell us the ‘sex’ of the trigram, and this will continue to be true for the four to come. (Meaning that Kan is a male trigram and has single yang line, while Li is female with one yin line.)
Without further ado, then, the remaining four:
Ka-POW! Was that a meteor crashing down on stage? But as the smoke clears, there appears…a man! He’s snazzily dressed in electric blue-green. Cocksure, hot-tempered, impulsive, that’s our Zhen, the essence of thunder. He’ll mellow with age, no doubt, but right now he’s in the first flush of exuberance with that lone yang line surging up from below. He’s a mover and shaker, all right: a real initiator. And ever so quietly, a softer shape emerges in his wake. Gently enrobed in the softest spring green, lady Xun steps out from the shadows. Demure, elegant, soft-spoken. There’s no need to make waves or ruffle feathers: her companion’s already done enough of that for two. Yet those in the know whisper that she’s got a lot of say behind the scenes. Her gentle spring breezes carry a subtle and pervasive influence that outlives Zhen’s bombast.
And now for our final pair: the amazingly talented, archetypally-charged, totally precocious kid brother and sister of the ba gua…
Pause. Hold up. Is that Gen? He doesn’t so much emerge; he’s simply there. Feet planted solid, he appears rooted to the spot as if he’s always been right where he is. The mountain. He says little: his steadfast presence is enough. When he does speak, his voice rumbles like an avalanche. Despite his drab attire there’s something magnetic about him. Confidence and strength radiate off him, commanding attention. Around Gen’s massive bulk like a butterfly flits Dui, youngest sister of the gua. Playful, open to what life brings, she is the essence of light-hearted joy. She seems to sparkle in the sun; around her splashing sounds can be heard. She walks lightly, preferring to skip or dance, and she holds her palms upward to the sky. Hers is the open marshlands, where the living is easy. She brings fertility, exchange.
And that’s all. The ba gua are what happens when the primordial Dao is sliced into eight pieces: there’s nothing left over.
Between them they encompass all that is: everything can be filed into one of these eight segments of the whole. Elements, directions, colors; organs, channels; herbs; types of animal; styles of music; personalities. Sure, there are long lists of characteristics associated with each trigram, but let’s leave them alone for now.They can too easily turn this fresh way of seeing into a rote exercise.
Instead, it’s helpful simply to soak in the essence of each trigram.
Some of them you may pick up intuitively or identify with. In all likelihood, one or two will remain elusive, or there will be a pair or two that you can’t seem to keep straight. It’s all part of the process. If you stay engaged with them, you’ll eventually come to know them as intimate characters that can be recognized anywhere.
There’s no way around it you’ve got to roll up your sleeves, dive in, and play with the trigrams.
Explore, test, challenge, be challenged. Roll and duck and tumble. Try your strength against Gen, dance with elegant Li, and fall back exhausted into the accepting arms of Kun. Go to Qian for fatherly advice. Stir things up with Zhen, dare to test the depths of Kan, then mellow a while with soft Xun. Then let Dui have you in stitches on the floor. You get the idea: they may be referenced in classical texts, but the trigrams don’t come from books. They’re expressions of life energy at a certain stage of differentiation. They contain universes. Like Frankenstein’s monster, they’re…alive! Last post we began with a look at one arrangement of the trigrams, the Pre-Heaven bagua, and identified its structure—opposite trigrams opposite one another. This time we’ll end with a challenge. Reproduced below is the other common arrangement, the Post-Heaven bagua. There’s no obvious symmetry here: it looks completely scrambled. But there’s a different kind of order at work, one of special relevance to us as students and practitioners of classical medicine.
Take a good look—let yourself play—and see what you can find.
Next Time Now that we’ve got the full bagua in play, we’ll dive right into some methods of trigram divination. Soon we’ll be putting the pieces together and exploring hexagrams with a similarly direct, intuitive approach.