Explaining the world in eight diagrams
How the universe works has always been a puzzle. Ancient Chinese tended to explain the fundamental rules of the world with a mysterious map — bagua, or eight diagrams, which is said to have been created by Fuxi, the world’s first man.
In an autumn of continuous storms, Fuxi began to worry about how humans would survive. They were facing food shortages due to continuous rain, threats to their lives from beasts and uncertainty about their future in such a cruel environment.
Fuxi lifted his arms to the sky as he prayed for divine inspiration.
A voice came from the heaven: “You were born from the essence of the sun and the moon. You are the favored children of the heaven and Earth. You will surely overcome the crisis.”
Feeling power surging within him, Fuxi pondered on the god’s message. He watched the sun rising and falling and the moon waxing and waning day after day, and realized that everything on Earth ran in cycles.
He found that the weather changed when the handle of the Big Dipper pointed in different directions and that nature revived in spring with birds coming back and lizards changing color. He witnessed lightning struck trees on the mountain, setting off a huge fire. But in a minute, heavy rain doused the flames. The raindrops dripping from the trees activated the streams, which converged into the waterfalls. It seemed that everything in the universe was related and interactive.
Fuxi mused at the altar beside the river, with Nuwa sitting opposite him. With a breeze softly blowing his long whiskers, Fuxi jumped to his feet: “I get it!”
People saw him in a halo, his eyes twinkling with intelligence.
Facing the direction of sunrise, Fuxi said: “The god of wind enlightens us that the direction of the sunrise is called east, the direction of the sunset is west. The direction of my right hand is the south, and the direction of my left is the north. The four directions, together with the heaven and Earth, compose our world. They are called liuhe (literally ‘six harmonies’). The heart of humans is the only one that can communicate with the mind of the universe.”
“What is the mind of the universe?” people wondered.
“That is the most fundamental principle in the world. There are rules for every transformation in the universe, such as the rising and setting of the sun, changing of the seasons, blossoming and withering of flowers. We humans can prosper as long as we learn from nature and master the rules,” said Fuxi.
At that moment, white waves rose on the river, and a white dragon-headed horse jumped out and ran to Fuxi.
On the horseback was a pattern made up of a square and five groups of black-and-white spots. Each group was composed of 10 spots.
After careful examination of the pattern, Fuxi came up with an idea. He had Nuwa unfold a white cloud ceiling, while he himself drew a map on it with a branch and muddy water. In the center, black-and-white fish-shaped patterns made up a circle, with eight different directions around. At each direction, there was a pattern composed of three unbroken or broken lines.
“The black-and-white patterns in the center represent the two opposing forces, namely yin and yang. The eight groups of symbols around are the eight trigrams, which represent heaven, earth, thunder, wind, water, fire, mountain and lake,” said Fuxi.
Heaven and Earth, one above and one below, make all things in their right position. Thunder and wind move respectively yet also echo with each other. Water is cold and moist while fire is hot and dry, yet they also help each other. Mountains are high and hard while lakes are low and soft, but their breaths blend in harmony.
The magic map named bagua (eight diagrams) explains the constitution of the universe, where everything features yin and yang. According to Fuxi, the map would help people speculate and understand the world, such as why the weather changes, why day and night exchange and why it rains or the wind blows.
The moment Fuxi finished his drawing, the map of eight diagrams shined with brilliancy and spun quickly. A voice of the Supreme Diety Haotian came: “Fuxi, as you understand the fundamental principle of the universe, I nominate you the God of Taihao and the divine dragon as your flag. I nominate the young man Zhi as God of Shaohao with the phoenix as his flag.”
The Supreme Diety Haotian told them to always remember the maxim: As heaven maintains vigor through movements, a gentle man should constantly strive for self-perfection. As Earth’s condition is receptive of devotion, a gentle man should hold the outer world with a broad mind.
Fuxi and Zhi led their people marching toward the mountains and forests.
The eight diagrams embrace a traditional Chinese philosophy in explaining both natural and social phenomena. With different combinations, the eight diagrams can derive into 64 diagrams at most, which can also be used for traditional Chinese divination.
Diagrams recorded on antlers unearthed at the Qingdun Relic Site in Jiangsu Province in 1979 proved the use of eight diagrams by Chinese about 5,000 years ago.
The Guatai Mountain in northwest China’s Gansu Province is said to be where Fuxi observed the universe and painted the eight diagrams. But many scholars are more inclined to the conjecture that it was the later generation who made Fuxi the creator of the eight diagrams.