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Posted by Imperial Harvest on 10 November 2023

Decoding Early Heaven and Later Heaven Bagua

Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins

The Eight Trigrams, known as Bagua (八卦), is commonly arranged and presented in one of two ways: Early Heaven Bagua (先天八卦) and Later Heaven Bagua (后天八卦).

Early Heaven Bagua represents the foundational laws of the universe. Its arrangement was based on the geographical and climatic attributes of ancient China.

On the other hand, Later Heaven Bagua is commonly employed in Imperial Feng Shui due to its association with directional and spatial aspects. It symbolises the unfolding of the human experience, the dynamic flow of energy, and the ever-changing patterns of the environment.

Origins of Early Heaven Bagua

Early Heaven Bagua, also known as Primordial Bagua, is traditionally attributed to the legendary Chinese leader and sage, Fu Xi. Fu Xi, who holds a place among the three Sovereigns during the ancient era of the “Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors” in China (approximately 2850 to 2200 BC), arranged the Early Heaven Bagua based on his observations of the geographical and climatic attributes of ancient China.

Arrangement of Early Heaven Bagua

Qian Trigram (乾卦): Symbolising Heaven, the Qian Trigram is characterised by three Yang lines and is positioned at the top in the Southern region. In traditional beliefs, the South direction is linked to the Red Phoenix, a mythical creature that represents Pure Yang.

Kun Trigram (坤卦): Representing Earth, the Kun Trigram is characterised by three Yin lines and occupies the lower position in the Northern direction. According to ancient symbolism, the North direction is associated with the Black Turtle, the mythical creature that embodies Pure Yin.

Li Trigram (离卦): Symbolic of Fire is situated to the left in the East position, corresponding with the rising sun. This Eastern position is linked to the Green Dragon and signifies the Minor Yang — referencing the “Yang within Yin” concept in Chinese metaphysics.

Kan Trigram (坎卦): Located on the right, the Kan Trigram symbolically aligns with the element of Water. It corresponds with the West direction, aligning with the course of the Yellow River, which predominantly flows from West to East through Northern China. This Western orientation is associated with the White Tiger and signifies the Minor Yin — the presence of Yin within Yang.

The Yellow River, or Huang He (黄河), is widely revered as the “Mother River” and the “Cradle of Chinese Civilisation.” It served as the foundational ground for numerous ancient Chinese dynasties, underscoring its profound influence on early Chinese history and mythology.

The arrangement of the Qian and Kun Trigrams, which correspond with North and South respectively, along with the Li and Kan Trigrams, aligning with East and West respectively highlights the duality of Yin and Yang. This arrangement, when coupled with the concept of the Four Mythical Creatures or Four Phenomena provides valuable insight into the Bagua’s portrayal of the universe at its inception.

Gen Trigram (艮卦): This Trigram symbolises the mountain and is located in the Northwest. Its positioning reflects the characteristics of China’s geographical landscape, encompassing areas such as the Tibetan Plateau, Kunlun Mountains, Tianshan Mountains, Altai Mountains, and Qilian Mountains.

Dui Trigram (兑卦): The Dui Trigram represents the marsh, which refers to a low-lying area prone to waterlogging and flooding during wet seasons or high tides. It is situated in the Southeast, symbolising the coastal region of Southeast China. This area primarily faces the South China Sea and the East China Sea, encompassing provinces like Fujian, Guangdong, Zhejiang, and Shanghai within this coastal belt. Historically and economically, the Southeastern coastal region played a significant role in China, serving as a major trading port and gateway for cultural interactions.

Xun Trigram (巽卦): Representing wind, the Xun Trigram is situated in the Southwest, mirroring the distinctive geographical and climatic features of Southwest China. This region, including areas like Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet, is characterised by expansive valleys nestled between towering mountain ranges. The temperature variations between these mountain peaks and valleys create valley winds, a defining feature of the region’s climate. This connection between the directional symbolism of the Xun Trigram and the natural winds of Southwest China enhances our understanding of the trigram’s placement and significance in the Early Heaven Bagua.

Zhen Trigram (震卦): Symbolic of thunder, this trigram is located in the Northeast. This placement implies that thunder, frequently preceding rainfall, can be viewed as a herald of fertile soil. Northeast China encompasses the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning. These areas were historically crucial locations for agriculture due to their fertile “black earth” or chernozem soils. This soil was abundant in organic matter and nutrients, making for an ideal foundation for farming activities.

Applications of Early Heaven Bagua

Early Heaven Bagua has applications in various Chinese metaphysical and divinatory practices, including Xuan Kong Da Gua date selection and Plum Blossom Divination.

Origins of Later Heaven Bagua

King Wen of Zhou, while enduring imprisonment by King Zhou of Shang, undertook the task of arranging the Later Heaven Bagua. During his captivity, it became evident to King Wen that a comprehensive system was required to align with the complexities of the world as well as offer guidance across a multitude of life’s aspects. As a result, the Later Heaven Bagua was conceptualised.

In contrast to Early Heaven Bagua, which encapsulated fundamental and universal principles, the Later Heaven Bagua was designed to offer insights into the practical challenges and interactions encountered in the real world. Under King Wen of Zhou’s reconceptualisation, the Later Heaven Bagua represents a more pragmatic and applied framework, reflecting the dynamic nature of life and its myriad complexities.

King Wen regarded Later Heaven Bagua as a blueprint for shaping society, offering guidance in various aspects:

  • Governance: Later Heaven Bagua presented his vision for societal harmony, highlighting the importance of unity and mutual understanding among its members.
  • Economy: Aligning with the principles of the I Ching, the Later Heaven Bagua harmonised with agricultural cycles and trade — emphasising the significance of balance and sustainable growth.
  • Societal Norms: The conceptualisation of Later Heaven Bagua illuminated the familial and community bonds, strengthening relationships and communal ties.
  • Politics: Beyond theoretical insights, the Later Heaven Bagua provided practical leadership guidance, assisting individuals in navigating the intricacies of diplomacy and conflict management.

Arrangement of Later Heaven Bagua

Later Heaven Bagua is a representation of the world and its interactions. It offers a structured arrangement that is reflective of the world’s dynamic aspects:

  • Seasons: This aspect is integral for agricultural planning, ensuring the harmonious cultivation of crops and identifying the most suitable times for specific activities.
  • Directions: In applications like Feng Shui, the Later Heaven Bagua serves as a guiding tool for the layout of cities, homes, and temples, enabling the harnessing of auspicious energies.
  • Familial Relationships: Later Heaven Bauga’s representations provide guiding principles for achieving social harmony and comprehending one’s roles and responsibilities
  • Medicine: By associating parts of the body with the Later Heaven Bagua, traditional medicine practitioners could diagnose and treat ailments, viewing the body as a microcosm of the universe.

The understanding of natural cycles plays a fundamental role in Later Heaven Bagua. The arrangement of the trigrams offers insight into the ebb and flow of energies, seasons, and various other natural phenomena. The following provides a more detailed exploration of these natural cycles as depicted in the Later Heaven Bagua, which contributed to the development of the Five Arts:

  • Mountain (山): Harmonising with the land and environment.
  • Medicine (医): The utilisation of natural principles for healing and healthcare.
  • Divination (卜): Practices related to divination and oracles.
  • Appearance 相): Interpretation and observation of external signs.
  • Destiny (命): Understanding an individual’s fate and potential life trajectory.

Later Heaven Bagua also corresponds to the seasons and the 12 Earthly Branches. These associations within the Later Heaven Bagua connect it with the seasons and the Earthly Branches, reflecting the dynamic interplay of natural forces and cycles, and are as follows:

  • Qian Trigram (乾卦): Represents Autumn and encompasses two Earthly Branches: Xu (戌) for the Dog and Hai (亥) for the Pig.
  • Dui Trigram (兑卦): Symbolises Autumn and encompasses one Earthly Branch, 酉 (You), representing the Rooster.
  • Li Trigram (离卦): Epitomises Summer and encompasses one Earthly Branch, 午 (Wu), symbolising the Horse.
  • Zhen Trigram (震卦): Denotes Spring and includes one Earthly Branch, 卯 (Mao) — representing the Rabbit.
  • Xun Trigram (巽卦): Indicates Spring and Summer, encompassing two Earthly Branches, 辰 (Chen) for the Dragon and 巳 (Si) for the Snake.
  • Kan Trigram (坎卦): Representative of Winter and includes one Earthly Branch, Zi (子), symbolising the Rat.
  • Gen Trigram (艮卦): Represents Spring and Winter, encompassing two Earthly Branches, 丑 (Chou) for the Ox and 寅 (Yin) for the Tiger.
  • Kun Trigram (坤卦): Characterises Summer and Autumn, encompassing two Earthly Branches — 未 (Wei) for the Goat and 申 (Shen) for the Monkey.

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