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Origins of the Eight Trigrams

Canon Emblem for the Canon Method of Internal Martial Arts Practice

The Origin of Yin and Yang and the Eight Trigrams

In the beginning there was nothing but a formless chaos. Out of this chaos, there was born an egg. When the egg split the heavy yolk sank to become the Earth, while the light egg white rose to become the Heavens.

That the Universe is made of two forces, a heavy yin aspect and a lighter yang aspect whose separation and interaction are constantly creating all aspects of the Universe, is the foundation of Daoism. This line of thought developed to include all the social and physical interactions of man.

Before it developed into a complex system of creation and organization, Daoism was more practical. Yin and yang represented different times of the day and of the year. Daylight was the time for work, night was for rest.

Yin and yang are represented by two lines. Yang is a solid line that represents brightness, lightness, masculinity, and the tendency to move upwards.

Yang Line

Yin is a broken line that represents darkness, heaviness, the feminine, and the tendency to move downwards.

Yin Broken Line

Yin is a time to plant and rest, while yang is time for harvesting and working. Being in accord with nature meant living into the next year, and if your crops did well, then you might prosper from your good virtue.

Fu Xi and the Eight Trigrams

Fu Xi is a cultural hero reputed to have taught the Chinese people the skills needed to form a civilization. He is depicted with his female predecessor, the goddess Nuwa. They are holding a compass and a square, further illustrating the complementary, and yet opposite forces of yin and yang.

Fu-Xi and Nuwa

In 2852 BCE Fu Xi is also credited with creating the bagua (Eight Trigrams), which formed the basis for the Yi Jing (Book of Changes). The trigrams of the bagua, and the hexagrams of the Yi Jing, are more complex representations of the simple yin and yang symbols of a broken and solid line. Chinese calligraphy developed from these representations.

Fu Xi further developed the eight trigrams into an arrangement revealed to him on the back of a turtle that emerged from the Yellow River.

The river map arrangment of yin and yang dots

The dots are unitary (base one) representations of the integers one through ten. In this diagram the sum of all the odd or even integers on the periphery equal twenty. Adding any number on the inside squares with five (the center) will equal the number on the outer square.

The legend says that Fu Xi created the pre-heaven bagua circle from his understanding of this arrangement.

Pre-Heaven Bagua Arrangement

In this arrangement the trigrams across from each other represent opposites, much like the even and odd numbers oppose each other on the diagram. A later method of divination associated the numbers on the outer edge of this arrangement to four values, or conditions, of yin and yang. Where six is Old Yin, seven is Young Yang, eight is Young Yin, and nine is Old Yang.

Yu the Great

Another legend associates the arrangement of the trigrams to Yu the Great. Yu is regarded as the founder of the Xia Dynasty (2205 – 1600 BCE) and inventor of flood control techniques. Yu was dedicated to flood control, passing by his house three times without going in, saying that he could not rest in his own home as long as the floods were leaving others homeless.

Yu reportedly saw this arrangement on the back of a tortoise from the Lou River.

The Lour River scroll of yin and yang dots

The dots are unitary (base one) representations of the integers one through nine. The odd and even numbers alternate in the pattern’s periphery, the four even numbers are at the four corners, and the five odd numbers form a cross in the center of the square. The sums in each of the three rows, in each of the three columns, and in both diagonals, is fifteen. Fifteen is the number of days in each of the twenty-four cycles of the Chinese solar calendar. Since five is in the center, the sum of any two cells opposite each other is ten.

Post Heaven Bagua

When Jou the Terrible ascended to the throne of the Shang dynasty (1600 – 1122 BCE), his behavior was so horrific that his name is synonymous with “a debauched tyrant.” Meanwhile, the nearby state of Zhou was gaining influence and the neighboring states would bring their disputes before King Wen of Zhou (1099 – 1050 BCE) to be settled since they knew King Wen provided a wise and fair arbitration.

On one of King Wen’s visits to the Shang court, Jou the Terrible threw him in prison, where he was confined for seven years. While in prison, King Wen reflected on Yin and Yang, the Five Phases, and the trigrams of the Bagua. He decided to stack one trigram upon another trigram to form a hexagram–symbolizing a higher level of diversification. He attached a name and a description to each of the sixty-four possible hexagrams. He also rearranged the trigrams on the Bagua circle to reflect the complexity of the natural world–including the change of seasons and the interaction of the Five Phases. This arrangement is the post-heaven Bagua circle.

the Post-Heaven Bagua Arrangement

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