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Chinese Cosmology and Metaphysics

In the Tao-te-Ching (chapter 42) Lao-tzu, says:

 "The Tao begets One;
 One begets Two;
 Two begets Three;
 Three begets the myriad things"

From this comes the basic cosmology of early Taoism.  According to this, the transcendent Absolute or wu-wei, is distinguished from the immanent Absolute, or yu-wei.  From the original state of chaos, the t'ai-chi or hun-tun, identified with the Tao in its primordial condition, comes yang through movement, and yin through quiescence.  By reversing the process of generation, one proceeds backwards from the myriad things to the state of original simplicity, the t'ai-chi or hun-tun [Michael Saso, "Buddhist and Taoist Notions of Transcendence", in Buddhist and Taoist Studies, ed. by Michael Saso and David W. Chippell (1977, University Press of Hawaii) p.11]

This sequence was systemmatised by the Sung Dynasty Neo-Confucian Chou Tun-I (1017-73), whose fame rests mainly upon a short exposition of a cosmological diagram, the T'ai Chi T'u Shuo ("Explanation of the Diagram of the Supreme Pole.").

on-line documentChinese Cosmogony: From Primal Qi Through Three Dimensions, Five Orientations, Eight Way-Stations (trigrams) by  Karin L. Blair


The Five Elements

The five "elements" (Wu Xing), are attributed to colours, psychological qualities, numbers, trigrams, and various other qualities, to the five main organs (lungs, kidneys, liver, heart and spleen) of the body.  These five organs and their associated qualities in fact serve as the foundation for all Chinese "alternative" medicine.  And although Chinese traditional medical science considers that these are the actual physical organs, it seems to me quite obvious that what is being referred to here are actually five chakras that can perhaps be associated with those organs in the same way that the standard chakras are said to be associated with endocrine glands and nerve plexii.  There is even some overlap with modern western esotericism.  The Theosophist Leadbeater for example introduced the "spleen chakra" quite independently of Chinese medicine.  Later writers such as Alice Bailey and, following her, David Tansley, link the Spleen Chakra with two others to form a "pranic triad" that is quite independent of the main line of chakras.

The colours of the five organs according to Chinese medicine are also interesting in relation to the phenomenology of colours in Alchemy, Sufism, and Tibetan Buddhism.

The table of correspondences is as follows:

Organ Element number and polarity Colour Season Consciousness
Spleen Earth 5/10 - Tao yellow late summer I - intelligence
Lungs  Metal  4/9 - senior yang white autumn  Po - corporeal soul
Liver  Wood 3/8- junior yin green or blue  spring Hun - spiritual soul
Heart Fire 2/7 - junior yang red summer Shen - Spirit
Kidneys Water 1/6 senior yin black winter Zhi - will


Chinese Astrology and Astronomy

The Dark, Clear, and Luminous Bardos: - a fascinating but very complex essay by Tony Smith, combining Chinese cosmology and the I Ching, ancient calenders, and modern quantum physics.

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 1998, revised 6 November 1998