Fate and Destiny (II)

December 16, 2008












We had a great discussion on Joseph Yu’s blog concerning the following classic phrase and the Five Elements:


(1) Destiny
(2) Cycle
(3) Feng Shui
(4) Accumulation of hidden virtuous deeds
(5) Study books

In the end it is about the role of Feng Shui plays in our fate and destiny (Ming, fate, Heaven’s decreed or mandate), which brought me to Wing-Tsit Chan again with his comment on Mencius in page 78 of his “A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy”, which I think every student of Chinese Metaphysics (Xuan Shu) should read.

Mencius said, “He who exerts his mind to the utmost knows his nature. He who knows his nature knows Heaven. To preserve one’s mind and to nourish one’s nature is the way to serve Heaven. Not to aloow any double-mindedness regardless of longevity or brevity of life, but to cultivate one’s person and wait for (destiny to takes its own course) is the way to fulfill one’s destiny”

Chan’s comment, “In ancient China there were five theories about destiny or the Mandate of Heaven. The first was fatalism: the Mandate of Heaven is fixed and unchangeable. The second was moral determinism: Heaven always encourage virtue and punishes evil; therefore man can determine his reward and punishment through moral deeds. The third was anti-fatalism, advocated by the Moist School. The fourth was naturalistic fatalism, which means that destiny is not controlled by Heaven in the sense of an anthropomorphic God but by Nature and works automatically. Lastly, there was the Confucian theory of “waiting for destiny”. According to this doctrine, man should exert his utmost in moral endeavor and leave whatever is beyond our control to fate. It frankly admits that there are things beyond our control but that is no reason why one should relax in his moral endeavor. The tendency was definitely one of moralism and humanism. The Confucian theory represents the conviction of enlighten Chinese in general”.

In view of the above, the study and the use of Feng Shui (and other branches of Xuan Shu for that matter) straddles the boundary between destiny and free-will, we should use these ancient knowledge as a tool to help use do our utmost  and only after we have tried our best, will our destiny be a true to self one and not to fall into the abyss of fatalism and determinism of all kinds.


4 Responses to “Fate and Destiny (II)”

  1. Fourpillars Says:

    Hi Howard,

    Good piece.
    It is nice to see that also in ancient China not everyone adhered to a deterministic or fatalist life philosophy.

    Also the I Ching book speaks of an approach that allows us to take our destiny in our own hands, at least to a certain extent. For example many line texts give advice on what is the best course of action (or non-action) in a given situation, and what will be the devastating result if wrong action is taken.
    So this talks of some free choice, and proper use of the book can help to how avoid the trouble in a lot of cases.

    I believe neither in “doing” nor in “waiting”, I think both should be used about 50% of the time.
    Just like a farmer waits in winter and acts in summer.

    Some cultures are too Yang, think they always need to act and do something. The USA is a typical example. The result is often doing more harm than good, and never getting any rest.
    Other cultures are too Yin, only waiting for destiny to come. India has long been a typical example. The result is lethargy and “waiting for Godot”.

    On the middle path one can have the best of both worlds.


  2. howardchoy Says:

    Hi Danny,

    Thanks for dropping by, I could not have agreed with you more, but striking a right balance between yin and yang is always a tricky task.

    This is where listening to all points of views helps, It kind of give one a echo sounding “map” to help knowing where we are, so we can act accordingly.


  3. liong Says:

    The theory of destiny still have a long discourse and deep study before we can summarize it into one single absolute truth.
    Maybe we can discuss more about the meaning of Destiny 天命, Fate 天运, God’s Will 天意 and Affinity 缘分 .
    It is a serious study in order to get perfection the subject of Destiny based on Confucian and Daoist scholars that have contributed on Chinese Civilization especially on Chinese Metaphysics

    • howardchoy Says:

      Hi Liong,

      Thanks for dropping by, here is my take on Destiny 天命, Fate 天运, God’s Will 天意, and I will try to link them to Affinity 缘分 at the end.

      Lets start with Tian Yun (Fate 天运), my opinion is to translate it into “(Heavenly) Fate” is a not exactly correct, for Yun simply means the cycles of time, so Tain Yun is really the cycles of time created by the the movement of the heavenly bodies at the time of our birth. It is only our fate in the sense we cannot control when and where we will be born and who our parent will be.

      Tian Ming ( Destiny 天命) is Destiny in the sense of what Tian Yun has Mingling 命令 or has in order for us as a result of Tain Yun. This Ming or commend from Heaven needs our understanding and response to take effect, just like if someone give you an order, you can either ignore it, comply with it fully or do it partially according to your will, in this sense it is really up to us to give meaning to Tian Ming and act accordingly. The misunderstanding lies in that if we do not follow the order from Heaven then we will be punished, this is only one’s belief and it affects the outcome but not necessarily so if we believe otherwise.

      Tian Yi (God’s Will 天意) is this meaning I mentioned earlier and the job of a consultant is to help his or her clients to interpret and to give meanings to their Tian Ming derived from their Tian Yun. Tian Yi does not exist apart from our understanding and the meanings we give it.

      Yunfeng (Affinity 缘分), in relationship to the above terms, means the synchronistic connection one has with someone who will help one to interpret and to give meaning to these terms. Although it is beyond our control, our own personally development will to some extent, affects our affinity with others.

      Since we have no say in when and where we will be born as mentioned earlier, we have no control over Tian Yun either, but Tian Yun is inert in the sense we give them the correlations in the first place (Yijing, philosophy and the like is a human construct), so our interpretation and ultimate actions will plays a part in the outcome.

      But we also need to bear in mind that there are things in life we just don’t know nor be able to change, so the Confucian attitude of “waiting for fate,” that is to try our best first and then accept gracefully what the outcomes will be is the most intelligent and humane thing we can do.


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