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Article FS09/apr4

Prof. Dr. Ong Hean-Tatt 20th April 2009


The previous article has shown that the Taoists had a much broader cosmology than the Sung philosophers. This article further discusses whether, as claimed by Mei Hua enthusiasts, Shao Yung's philosophy was based on the I Ching.

Not realising they had only a partial cosmology, the Sung philosophers could not agree but argued endlessly against each other about the I Ching.

  • "Chang Tsai (Chang Heng-ch'u, 1020-1077) drew his inspiration chiefly from the Book of Changes. But unlike Chou Tun-i (Chou Lien-hsi, 1017-1073) according to whom evolution proceeds from the Great Ultimate through the two material forces (yin and yang) and the Five Agents (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth) to the myriad things, and unlike Shao Yung (1011- 1077) according to whom evolution proceeds from the Great Ultimate through the two material forces and other stages to concrete things, Chang Tsai identifies material force (ch'i) with the Great Ultimate itself. He discards both yin and yang and the Five Agents as generative forces. To him, yin and yang are merely two aspects of material force, and as such are basically one. As substance, before consolidation takes place, material force is the Great Vacuity. As function, in its activity and tranquillity, integration and disintegration, and so forth, it is the Great Harmony. But the Great Vacuity and the Great Harmony are the same as the Way (Tao), the One. As contraction and expansion, the two aspects of material force are kuei-shen, or negative and positive spiritual forces." (Wing-Tsit Chan 1963 p.495)

The contradictions mean that many of them, if not all, had wrong ideas about the I Ching. Shao Yung's view was not accepted by many of his colleagues. Chu Xi, greatest of the Confucian philosophers, regarded Shao Yung's view as not based on the I Ching:

  • On the other hand, Chu said of Shao Yung's major work, the Huang-chi ching-shih shu (Book of Supreme Principles Ordering the World), that "it had nothing to do with the I." [Smith et al, 1990]

    But in his anthology of early Sung philosophy, Chu Hsi (1130-1200) did not include Shao Yung... The reason for this is that Chu Hsi fixed the line of the orthodox transmission of Neo-Confucianism from Chou Tun-i through the Cheng brothers to Chang Tsai. Later Neo-Confucianists included Chu Hsi but not Shao Yung (Wing-Tsit Chan, 1963 p.482).

Read later on in this article how Chu Xi viewed Shao Yung's thinking as illogical.


Shao Yung,
author of Mei Hua Yi Shu (Plum Blossom Divination).
Recluse of Luoyang.

Are his claims of his writings being based on the I Ching true?
Chu Xi, greatest of Confucian philosophers, said that Shao Yung's thinking was not based on the I Ching.

Heaven and Earth Produced Supreme Ultimate: Confucius' Exposition

To assess the Sung theories of the "Supreme Ultimate", it is necessary to examine what Confucius stated in the King Wen I Ching (Wilhelm 1951):

  • Ta Chuan (The Great Treatise or Great Commentary to the King Wen I Ching)
    Chapter 1. The Changes in the Universe and in the Book of Changes

    1.Heaven is high, the earth is low; thus the Creative and the Receptive are determined.
    In correspondence with this difference between the low and high, inferior and superior places are established.
    Movement and rest have their definite laws; according to these, firm and yielding lines have differentiated.
    Events follow definite trends, each according to its nature. Things are distinguished from one another in definite classes. In this way good fortune and misfortune come about. In the heavens phenomena take form; on earth shapes take form. In this way change and transformation become manifest.
    2.Therefore the eight trigrams succeed one another by turns, as the firm and yielding displace each other.

    Chapter X. The fourfold Use of the Book of Changes
    4.Therefore they called the closing of the gates the Receptive, and the opening of the gates the Creative. The alternation between closing and opening they called change. The going forward and backward without ceasing they called penetration. What manifests itself visibly they called an image; what has bodily form they called a tool. What is established in usage they called a pattern. That which furthers on going out and coming in, that which all men live by, they called the divine.
    5.Therefore there is in the Changes the Great Primal Beginning. This generates the two primary forces. The two primary forces generate the four images. The four images generate the eight trigrams.
    6.The eight trigrams determine good fortune and misfortune. Good fortune and misfortune create the great field of action.

Confucius taught, vis Chapter X, verses 4-5, that the Heaven and Earth are not only independent of the Changes, but they are what which create the Changes.


Confucius compiled the King Wen I Ching.
Many people claim to adopt the I Ching, but how true are their claims? They have only a semblance of the I Ching but violate several principles of the I Ching.
Chapter 1 verse 1 shows that the change and transformation of the Great Primal Beginning, Yin Yang and 8 trigrams are created by interactions between the "heavens phenomena" and "earth shapes". These "heavens phenomena" and the "earth shapes" are meant by pre-Han sage Huang Shih Kung in his Qing Nang Jing:

  • QNJ 1.34 & 1.35 Heaven consists of five planets. Earth consists of Five Elements
    QNJ 1.36 & 1.37 Heaven is divided into constellations. Earth is arranged according to mountains and rivers.
    QNJ 1.38 & 1.39 Qi transforms on the ground. Pattern magnifies from the sky.
    QNJ 1.40 & 1.41 Based on pattern to evaluate qi. One can establish guideline for Man

In Huang Shih Kung total cosmology, qi will have two major variations:

  • 1. Variations according to pattern of Heaven associated with five planets.
    2. Variations according to the ground or shape of the Earth associated with the Five Elements and mountains and rivers.

The Sung metaphysics was based entirely on "the change and transformation of the Great Primal Beginning, the Yin Yang and the 8 trigrams", which concerned only the second type of variation of the qi. The Sung metaphysics philosophy is thus only part of the total cosmology of Huang Shih Kung. Huang Shih Kung the Taoist knew of a cosmology which was much broader than what Shao Yung and the Sung philosophers knew. The Sung philosophers had only a part of the whole picture.


Taoist Immortal Huang Shih Kung.
His Cosmology was far broader than those of the Sung philosophers.

Heaven and Earth Produced Supreme Ultimate
Chou Tun Yi, Father of Neo-Confucianism.

  • Note that the previous article has shown that Chou Tun Yi diagram (seen at right) is actually about the seasonal variations of the solar shadow forming the Taiji, Yin Yang and 8 trigrams of the Early Heaven Bagua.

Chou Tun Yi (1017-1073) contribution is the famous Taichi-Tu or "Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate" (see diagram at right). This "Diagram of Supreme Ultimate" was similar to the "Diagram of What Antedates Heaven" (Hsien-Tien Tu). Both diagrams were passed as follows (Fung Yu-Lan 1953 p.440):

  • Taichi-Tu or "Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate": Mu Hsiu - Chou Tun Yi.
    Diagram of What Antedates Heaven" (Hsien-Tien Tu): Chen Tuan (906-989) - Chung Fang (1014) - Mu Hsiu (979-1032) - Li Chih-Tsai (1045) - Shao Yung (1011-1077).
    River Chart and Lo Writing: Chung Fang - Li Kai - Hsu Chien (976-984) - Fan )-chang - Liu Mu (1011-1064). Shao Ying received from Li Chih-Tsai the River Chart, Lo Writing, eight trigrams of Fu Hsi and sixty four hexagrams. (Fung Yu-Lan 1953 p.453).

These diagrams were believed to be from Chen Tuan, an exponent of Taoist technique of immortality. Taichi-Tu or "Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate" and "Diagram of What Antedates Heaven" (Hsien-Tien Tu) were slight variants of the same diagram. Chou Tun Yi's explanation is as follows:

  • "The Ultimateness (Wu Chi). And yet also the Supreme Ultimate (Taiji). The Supreme Ultimate through movement produces the yang. This movement, having reached its limit, is followed by quiescence and by this quiescence it produces the yin. When quiescence has reached its limit, there is a return to movement. Thus movement and quiescence, in alternation, become each the source of the other. The distinction between the yin and yang is determined, and their Two Forms stand revealed. By the transformations of the yang and the union therewith of the yin, water, fire, wood, metal and earth are produced. These five chi become diffused in harmonious order and the four seasons proceed in their course. The Five Elements are the one yin and yang; the yin and yang are the one Supreme Ultimate; and the Supreme Ultimate is fundamentally the Ultimateless. The Five Elements come into being each having its own particular nature (hsing)" (Fung Yu-Lan 1953 p.435-437).

Edward T.C. Werner, [1922 in Myths and Legends of China] also stated the same thing:

  • Chou Tun-i, appropriately apotheosized as 'Prince in the Empire of Reason,' completed and systematized the philosophical world-conception which had hitherto obtained in the Chinese mind. He did not ask his fellow-countrymen to discard any part of what they had long held in high esteem: he raised the old theories from the sphere of science to that of philosophy by unifying them and bringing them to a focus. And he made this unification intelligible to the Chinese mind by his famous T'ai chi t'u, or Diagram of the Great Origin (or Grand Terminus), showing that the Grand Original Cause, itself uncaused, produces the yang and the yin, these the Five Elements, and so on, through the male and female norms (tao), to the production of all things.

Chou Tun Yi's explanation is recognised as close to the passage from the I Ching, Appendix 3 quoted earlier: "Chou's first few sentences, describing the Supreme Ultimate are obviously inspired by the passage in the Book of Change (Appendix III, p.373 Fung Yu-Lan 1953 p.438). Chou Tun Yi's explanation does not differ materially from Confucius. Heaven and Earth were equated with the Great Primal Beginning which produces all the things, including the two forces of Yin Yang.


Chou Tun Yi's Diagram

Supreme Ultimate Produces Heaven and Earth:
Deviations from Confucius and Chou Tun Yi

After Chou Tun Yi, some began to say that the Great Primal Beginning existed before Heaven and Earth! They began to say that the Great Primal Beginning created Heaven and Earth - this view is exemplified by Chu Xi (1130-1200):

  • Chu Xi stated, The Ultimateless! And yet also the Supreme Ultimate! .. do not mean that it (the Supreme Ultimate) is a physical something glittering in a glorious manner somewhere. They only mean that in the beginning, when no single physical object yet existed, there was then nothing but Principle (li)..."Fung Yu-Lan 1953 p.535).

    Before Heaven and Earth existed, there was only Principle. There being this Principle, this Heaven and Earth then came to exist. If there were no Principle, there would also be no Heaven and Earth, no human beings and no things. None of these would have any place to stand. There being Principle, there is then the Ether, which flows into movement to produce the myriad things." (Fung Yu-Lan 1953 p.544).

Fung Yu-Lan (1953 p.545-546) pointed out that Chu Xi's view contradicted the view of Chou Tun Yi:

  • Chou continues in his Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate Explained: "The Supreme Ultimate through movement produces the yang. This movement having reached its limit, is followed by quiescence, and by this quiescence it produces the yin." This statement does not harmonise with Chu's system, according to which we cannot say that the Supreme Ultimate itself undergoes either movement or quiescence, but only that it contains the Principles governing these two phases, through which the Ether is respectively activated or stilled, and in this way generating yang or yin matter... Chu used Chou Tun-yi's actual phraseology, his interpretaton of it differs considerably from Chou's original meaning.


Chu Xi
Greatest of Sung philosophers. He condemned Shao Yung work as illogical and not of the I Ching.

Supreme Ultimate Produces Heaven and Earth: Shao Yung

One Northern Sung philosopher who contradicted Chou Tun Yi and Confucius was Shao Yung (1011-1077) the creator of Mei Hua divination. It is believed that Shao Yung received various daigrams from one Li Chih-Tsai. Like Chu Xi, Shao Yung placed Heaven and Earth as coming after the Supreme Ultimate, as written in his Kuan-wu (Observation of Things) Part 1, 11a.1:

  • Heaven is produced from movement and Earth from quiescence. Through the alternating interplay of movement and quiescence, the course of Heaven and Earth is completely actualised. With the first appearance of movement, the yang is produced, and this movement having reached its apogee, the yin is then produced. Through the alternating interplay of the yin and yang, the functionings of Heaven are completely actualised. With the first appearance of quiescence, softness is produced, and this quiescence having reached its apogee, hardness is produced. Through the alternating interplay of hardness and softness, the functioning of Earth is completely actualised. Movement in its major phase is called the greater yang; in its minor phase it is called the lesser yang. Quiescence in its major phase is called the greater yin; in its minor phase it is called the lesser yin. The greater yang constitutes the sun, the greater yin the moon, the lesser yang the stars and the lesser yin the zodiacal spaces. Through the interplay of sun, moon, stars and zodiacal spaces, the bodily substance of Heaven is completely actualised. The greater softness constitutes water, the greater hardness fire, the lesser softness soil, and the lesser hardness stone. Through the interplay of water, fire, soil and stone the bodily substance of Earth is completely actualised. (Fung Yu-Lan 1953 p.456).

Shao Yung's concept of the Yin Yang was not accepted by his fellow philosophers. As noted earlier, Chu Xi stated that Shao Yung's work is not based on the I Ching.

There are a number of reasons for finding that Shao Yung's cosmology contradicts that of the King Wen I Ching. Shao Ying's cosmology does not include the Five Elements. It also has the "Eight Elements", composing of items contradicting the properties of the eight trigrams. In fact, the sun, moon, stars and zodiacal spaces aspects originated from Hindu astrology, showing that Shao Yung had confusingly mixed I Ching concepts with Hindu concepts.


Diagram of Polarity that Antedates Heaven Polarity

Supreme Ultimate Produces Heaven and Earth:
Chang Tsai and Cheng brothers

Chang Tsai (1020-1077) equated the Supreme Ultimate with qi, that force invoked in Feng Shui and astrology. He replaced the Supreme Ultimate with the term Tai Hsu or Great Void. He wrote: "The Great Void in which no shapes exist: such is the Ether (qi) in its original essence. But as it condenses and disperses this results in the changing evolution of temporary shapes." (Fung Yu-Lan 1953 p.482).

  • Chang Tsai's view of qi as the Great Void contradicted that of Chou Tun Yi who stated that the Five Elemets are the five qi originating from transformation and union of Yin and Yang. Chang Tsai's view also contradicted the Yin Yang concepts of Shao Yung: Chang Tsai identifies material force (ch'i) with the Great Ultimate itself. He discards both yin and yang and the Five Agents as generative forces (Wing-Tsit Chan)

Some believe that Chang Tsai may not be well understood, as Chang Tsai actually indicate that Heaven is the Supreme Ultimate.

  • "The nature pertaining to Heaven utterly permeates the Way (Tao) and cannot be affected by the Ether (qi), regardless of whether the latter be dark or clear." By asserting, as he does earlier, that "from the Great Void is derived the term 'Heaven', Chang Tsai seems to imply that Heaven and the Great Void are identical." (Fung Yu-Lan 1953 p.489).

There were Cheng Yi (1033-1108) and Cheng Hao (1032-1085), the former the master of the lineage giving rise to Chu Xi (1130-1200). The Cheng brothers and Chu Xi stressed Heavenly Principle, li, as self existent and giving rise to all other things: "The third point is that the Principles governing the many phenomena and things of the external world..." (Fung Yu-Lan 1953 p.504).

There were some ambiguity and self-contradictions in the views of later Sung philosophers. Many Sung philosophers may, in self contradictions, advocated variants of the view of Chou Tun Yi that at least Heaven pre-existed everything. If these analysts are right, then Chang Tsai would be close to the views of Confucius and Chou Tun Yi that Heaven and Earth either produce or are the same as the Supreme Ultimate.

Even Chu Xi himself appeared to associate li with Heaven:

  • For example, Dai said Zhu blandly associated Confucius' term tian (heaven) with his own notion of li (pattern; principle), quoting Analects 11:9 where Confucius, in sorrow over the death of his disciple Yan Hui, cried that "Heaven had forsaken" him. Could Zhu reasonably claim that Confucius was crying that li had forsaken him? (Kirill O. Thompson, 2007. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).


Top:Chang Tsai
Bottom: Cheng brothers

Supreme Ultimate Produces Heaven and Earth:
Further Deviation from I Ching - Shao Yung Ring of 64 Hexagrams

As such, the view of Shao Yung may be in isolation. Shao Yung had misinterpreted the "Diagram of What Antedates Heaven".

Shao Yung drew up a ring diagram of 64 hexagrams (diagram at right). He had used the 8 trigrams of Early Heaven Bagua as the base outer ring. Then for each trigram he associated the same 8 trigrams in the same sequence as in the Early Heaven Bagua, thereby creating the 64 hexagrams. Chu Xi recognised that there were flaws in this arrangement:

  • As arranged in Shao's diagram, however, these key hexagrams provoke the question as to why they should be spaced so unequally. This between hexagram 24 (the eleventh month) and 19 (the twelfth month) there is an interval of sixteen hexagrams; between nos 19 and 11 (the first month) of eight; between nos 11 and 34 (the second month) of four; between nos. 34 and 43 (the third month) of only two; and finally, between nos. 43 and 1 (the fourth month) of none at all. A similar diminishing progression holds good for the other half of the cycle. Nowhere does Shao himself explain the reason for this fact. In a later work, however, we find a disciple questioning his teacher, Chu Hsi, about it as follows: "(In Shao's diagram) after the yin and yang first appear, they each pass through sixteen hexagrams in order to reach the next month, and then again pass through eight hexagrams in order to reach the month following. Whereas when the yin and yang approach their point of culmination, they only pass through four hexagrams to cover one month, and then only pass through a single hexagram. After that there is a bunching together of three hexagrams in succession (for the remaining months). Thus in the beginning (of their growth) there is a wide spacing, while at the end there is a close crowding. Is this a proper principle for the expansion and contracting of the yin and yang:"
    To this question, Chu Hsi is reported to have replied as follows: "In observing the detailed manner in 'breaths' (of the year) expand and contract, I too have thought about it in the same manner, but have not succeeded in explaining it. When the yin and yang first appear, their ethers are congealed and sluggish. Nevertheless, there should not be such a wide spacing as thus, nor should there later be a violent crowding together. In general, this diagram is established in such a manner that everything proceeds in a natural way. This it is impossible that no explanation exists, and we should reflect on this matter further."
    Although other attempts at explanation have not been lacking, none have succeeded in being very "natural."
    (Fung Yu-Lan 1953 p.463-464).

Shao Yung was probably his toying with images of the trigrams, creating arrangements with no logical basis. Shao Yung overplayed this particular diagram, which is decorative but is actually nonsense, as suspected by Chu Hsi and his student, who recognised its "un-natural" (illogical) format! Thus, as noted earlier, Chu Xi did not regard Shao Yung as conforming to the I Ching.

Those who understand the King Wen I Ching will realise that Shao Yung's 64 hexagrams follow neither Fu Hsi or King Wen array. Others have created other arrangements of the 64 hexagrams, which like Shao Yung's 64 hexagrams, have no basis in the I Ching. There are many ways to arrange the hexagrams, but each arrangment must be shown to have logical basis, even if it is not of the I Ching. Resorting to mystical explanations can only create all sorts of nonsense.

  • Instead of using the Mei Hua methods to divine the hexagrams,Chu Xi had a different method to divine from the hexagrams of the I Ching:

    Chu Hsi went to considerable lengths to make divination by means of yarrow or milfoil stalks (achillea millefolium) accessible to literati. He wrote a detailed critique of the various methods of divination that had been proposed since the Han (all of them presumably based on the fragmentary method outlined in Hsi-tz'u A9), and he wrote three versions of what he considered to be the correct method. And as we have seen, he wrote a book on the theory and practice of divination, the I-hseh ch'i-meng (Introduction to the Study of the I). (From Kidder Smith, Jr., Peter K. Bol, Joseph A. Adler, and Don J. Wyatt, Sung Dynasty Uses of the I Ching (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), chs. 6 and 7.)

    This indicates that Chu Xi did not accept the validity of Shao Yung's Mei Hua method to replace the traditional yarrow stalks method to divine from the I Ching.


Shao Yung's Ring of 64 Hexagrams

Chu Xi (below) said that Shao Yung's ring of 64 hexagrams is illogical


It is easy to be mired in the contradictions of the Sung philosophers, such that it can be missed that the Sung philosophy focused only on the Wu Chi - Taiji - Yin Yang - 5 Elements - 8 trigrams.

  • This Wu Chi - Taiji - Yin Yang - 5 Elements - 8 trigrams pattern, which is only the seasonal variation of solar radiation, composes only the dizhi part of the total Ganzhi cosmology known earlier to persons like Huang Shih Kung the Taoist adept.

    In fact, it is the tilt of the Earth which causes the formation of the Taiji pattern. That is, if the Earth is not tilted, there would be no Taiji!

The knowledge of the cosmology of Existence was better known among the Taoist circles. The later Confucians were basically logicians, trying to figure out things in a logical manner. But much of the Taoist knowledge is not easily grasped by such an approach. The Sung philosophers had mistakenly used the partial dizhi part to try to create a total cosmology. Hence, there were gaps which they could not understand and over which they quarreled.

Despite the partial knowledge the Sung philosophers had about the total cosmology, most of them recognised that Shao Yung's theories contradict the I Ching. It was from such a flawed philosophy that Shao Yung created his dubious Mei Hua divination.

Please return to a rational and, if possible, a scientific understanding of Feng Shui, astrology and philosophy.


There is a lot to learn!

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