Chu Hsi (Zhu Xi) on Fate and Destiny

September 4, 2008













The Chinese equivalent for Heaven Luck, Man Luck, Earth Luck is Tian Yun, Ren Yun, Di Yun and the term Yun refers to cycles of time, so it is concerned with the time aspect and not with luck or fortune telling. Often in Feng Shui we neglected the form of a building and only concerned with the numbers or to get rich with a “water method” and to place the so-called cures everywhere to lessen our worries.

Use only numbers to do a FS audit have its limitations and scholars of past and present have often criticized this type of numerical determinism. Here is an example of what Chu Hsi said on fate and divination using numbers, from p. 627 of “A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy”:

“Thereupon the question: At present the school of occultism (divination and the use of numbers), such as that of Shao Yung, asserts that all is predetermined and cannot be changed. What do you say?

Answer: They can only show the general course in which the principle of the prosperity and decline and the augmentation and diminution of yin and yang is revealed. Sages and worthies did not hold such theories. At present people expounding Shao Yung’s (system based on) number assert that he said everything and every event succeeds or fails at a predetermined point of time. Such exposition is superficial.”

 Here is another quote on Shao Yung by Prof. Chan Wing-Tsit in p. 487 of his book mentioned above:

 “Shao was one of the few Chinese philosophers who tried to formulate a metaphysical theory of history. Like most others he could not get away from the concept of cycles. By combining the idea of cycles with his own theory of numbers, he viewed history as an infinite series of cycles. Starting with the traditional unit of 30 years for a generation, he held that a revolution consists of 12 generations (like a day with 12 periods), or 360 years, that an epoch consists of 30 revolutions (like a month with 30 days), or 10,800 years, and that a cycle consists of 12 epochs (again like 12 months in a year), or 129,600 years. The first three epochs according to him, corresponding to the first months of the year or the first three periods of the day in which yang begins to rise and things grow gradually. Thus the first three epochs are the period of the birth of heaven, earth and man successively. By the end of the sixth epoch (64,800 years), or June, yang reaches its height. This is the time of sage-emperors Yao and Shun. In his own time (75,600 years), or the eleventh century, yang begin to decline and yin rises. Eventually after 129,600 years, the whole cycle would end and another cycle would begin all over.

The whole scheme is as arbitrary as it is superficial. The idea that one world succeeds another is evidently Buddhist-influenced, for Buddhism conceives existence in terms of an infinite series of worlds, whereas the Chinese idea of cycles means rise and fall within the history of this world.”

Someone said once, “For those who think a number is just a number and the 9 numbers do not represent a living spirit, however, why not just find that 5 and spit in the face of the area. See what happens.” And I replied, “For your record, I have “find that 5 and spit in the face of the area” many times and nothing happened!”

Numbers are symbols; in San Yuan Feixing they represent the Gua or the Star qi. Contrary to what you said, they don’t represent a living spirit; they only represent a conceptual quality of qi in time. We make the numbers up and we make them come alive with our intentions and we give them power with our interpretations, the numbers don’t exist by themselves and they don’t have a power of their own. But we seem to think otherwise, so here laid the major difference between a “rational” and “non-rational” understanding of FS and here is also the source of my worries for the future of FS, for what we are doing with Feng Shui fortune –telling is running the risk of turning it into a game of playing with numbers and make these numbers real so the 5 Yellow is the cause of all our troubles! No wonders a lot of people think FS is superstitious.

Instead, we should look to the Stars and Gua Numbers for inspiration and not for pre-determination. Chu Hsi again, “It is true that each man has his destiny, but he should not fail to obey the correct destiny….Whenever a man has done his best, there he has his destiny alone.” So we should use Feng Shui to help us to do our best to achieve our true destiny and not to use it to create a false destiny and take away the power of our free will to fulfill our highest potential.

This is the way I was taught:

1)    Destiny

2)    Cycles (of good and bad luck)

3)    Feng Shui

4)    Do good deeds

5)    Read books

1 to 5 shows an increasing order of free will and a decreasing order of heaven’s mandate. 5 to 1 shows an increasing order of heaven’s mandate and a decreasing order of free will. Feng Shui in the middle influences both our destiny and our free will and the more we try to do our best the closer we get to our true destiny. Feng Shui may count only 20% but it holds the key to destiny and free will and it can change our life if we know how to find it.

So do you do this with the star charts and talk about the living spirits and give them some Wuxing cures or do you give them some practical advice on how to make their environment physically more supportive as well?

The ancient Chinese did not rely solely on divination, they used “Bu”and “Mu” (Bu-divination, Mu-planning) at the same time to assess a situation and make his decisions. They used “Bu” to help them “Mu” because they realized rational thinking has its limitations so they used synchronicity of numbers to help them to achieve a broader understanding, they realized one needs the other to be whole.

What we do in modern time is to separate the two modes of thinking and put our faith in either one of them and not using both together to our advantage. That is our problem. If we believe in Yin and Yang, then to know our limitation is also to know our potential and if we put a limit to our limit then we will also put a limit to our potential. I find it extraordinary for one human being to say to another: you will only live to 64 or you will only make half a million and no more. Can we be so limiting about human potential?

To me the real aim of Chinese astrology is to know yourself and to know your potential in time and the real aim of Feng Shui is to know your environment and its potential in space as well. Since time exists in the past, present and future mode and the past is gone while the future is yet to know, it would be more useful if we concentrate on the here and now and let go of the past and let the future take care of itself.

Sure, Chinese astrology and Feng Shui can help us to lessen our anxiety about the future and the past, but it will not help us live a more productive life if we don’t use them as tools to help us make better decisions for the here and now. To turn them into fortune telling will only give us false hopes and false fears and put a foregone limit to our potentials.

The truth of the matter is we don’t really know what is our true or false fate up front, or what is genuine or not genuine until after the event. Like the new science of complexity, the ancient mysterious art of numbers, Xiang Shu Shu or the Study of Numbers and Symbols, is just a mean to an end – to help us make better decisions and to help us cope better with our lives, no more and no less. 


5 Responses to “Chu Hsi (Zhu Xi) on Fate and Destiny”

  1. Maria Ruhl Says:

    Hi Howard, I appreciate your views very much. On one hand, i am fascinated about divinating systems like bazi suanming, because of this treasure of ancient knowledge. On the other hand i don’t like to know too much about my future. Too much means: so much, that feelings stop.
    Love and fear can not stay together.

  2. howardchoy Says:

    Dear Maria,

    Thanks for dropping by and your comments.

    Love and fear cannot stay together, nor can hate and hope. But if we can put them together and know which is the main and which is the subordinate, that is love is hope and hate is fear, then may be they have a better chance of staying together to serve us.

    Sometimes we think it is too much because we don’t see enough, there are yin and yang within yin and yang within yin and yang…

    Be well.

  3. Chris Lai Says:

    Hi Master Howard, I truly enjoyed this insightful post. I agree with your concerns about the future of Feng Shui, however, I am not proficient in Feng Shui to make any comment nor contribution. Thank you for sharing.

    Chris Lai

  4. drkconor Says:

    The name Zhu Xi 朱熹 is interesting phonetically also;
    zhu ji 築基 seeking of the foundations a synonym for the tai-chi-like exercise 六合八法拳 LiuHe BaFa. ..or construction of the foundations, is the stage described as selecting the ideal site to build the alchemy laboratory and furnace- caldron in. It is a stage for inner alchemist to recognize the position of the inner alchemical furnace and caldron, tan tien.
    Zhu zi 諸子 philosophical thinkers
    註釋 zhu4 shi4, ‘explain and elucidate’

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