Yin Yang and the 5 Elements
Have you ever wondered, how this universe functions ? It looks almost impossible that such a large arrangement of things is working with such harmony, such perfection. But we remain trapped in the narrow boundary of our knowledge. We think that what we can't perceive, doesn't exist.
But that is a very shallow way of looking at existence. Through centuries, there have been various metaphysical explanations of the working of the universe. And if one observes, they are so integrated and consistent with the existence that it's impossible to simply negate them without exploring 🧐.
One such explanation we can find in 'wuxing' which is deeply rooted in the Chinese philosophy. It also explains the fundamentals of the universe and how it works. Let's explore the concepts of 'wuxing' in detail and you will be amazed by its explanations.
1) What are The 5 Elements ?
Wuxing or the 5 elements have been the foundation of Chinese philosophy ever since it was propounded. Over a period of time, wuxing found its expression in almost all relevant fields of the Chinese culture.
Starting from medicine to music, wuxing had a significant impact on Chinese culture. Even fields such as acupuncture, feng shui, martial arts, astronomy, and tea ceremony 🍵 adopted the wuxing philosophy. Wuxing rose above a mere concept and became an integral part of the Chinese society.
Wuxing explains the very process of existence, both at a micro and macro level. It is the foundation of all existential activities. Although wuxing is popularly known as the 5 Chinese elements, it doesn't describe the concept properly.
In most cultures, elements were propounded as the building block of the universe. But unlike them, wuxing explains the process of the universe. It says that everything in the universe goes through 5 phases perpetually in no particular order 🌌.
It also explains the relationship between these phases. These phases are the phases of transformation of the energy from one state to another. This energy, the very source of the existence is known as T'ai chi in Chinese philosophy.
To understand further, it is important that we first know about the 5 elements or 5 phases. Each element has a symbolism attached to them that describes the phase of the energy in the eternal cycle of transformation.
The five elements are:
Many people translate this element as tree as well 🌳. This is the element that represents growth and figure. The element is associated with spring. It is the element of creativity where something new happens. It is also the most humane element of all.
As this element symbolizes the capacity to grow, and expansion, this element is associated with colour green and a rectangle. Every element is also associated with a particular direction. This one is associated with the east. Chinese illustrations represent this element with an azure dragon.
🔥 Fire is the most vibrant element or phase of nature. This is the phase when nature is at its peak. Hence, a decline is very much possible. This element represents heat and enthusiasm. Hence, this element is associated with summer.
As the element suggests itself, this element is very active and vibrant. Hence, colour red is associated with this element. A pointed triangle is also used to represent this element. This element is associated with the south. Chinese illustrations represent this element with a vermilion bird.
🏞️ Earth is the most grounded element of all. This element represents abundance, fertility, and nourishment. This is the most balanced element of all. It represents vitality and stability. The motion is minimum in this phase. This element is associated with the harvest season.
This element is represented by yellow. As this element symbolises balance, it is represented by a square. The direction associated with this element is also centre. Chinese illustrations use a yellow dragon to illustrate this element.
🧲 This metal represents gravity, power, magnetism, the pattern of celestial bodies, and minerals of the earth. Metal is normally viewed as a consolidating element with downward energy movement. Metal has generally a pre-determined form. But the form can be changed once it's molted.
Due to these characteristics, metal is associated with the colour white. The circle is the shape used to represent this element. This element is associated with the direction west. And Chinese illustrations use a white tiger to represent this element.
💧 This is an element full of life. Water is required to sustain life on this planet. This makes this element immensely powerful. Yet this an element which represents silence, stillness, fluidity, and flexibility. Water has the power to both nourishes, and destroy.
Water is represented sometimes in colour black and sometimes with colour blue. This is represented by simple wave symbols. North is the direction associated with this symbol. Chinese illustrations use black tortoise to represent this element.
2) Yin Yang and the Five Elements Theory
☯ Yin Yang is yet another very popular symbol of Chinese philosophy. It represents the duality of existence. If we observe, everything in the existence is divided into two opposites. Day/Night, good/evil, light/darkness, and every other thing. In fact, we can perceive a thing just because the opposite exists.
These two opposites are represented by yin and yang. And every opposite contains something of the other. This is the very nature of duality. One realises the true nature of existence when duality ceases to exist and everything becomes one in his experience. That is the space where yin and yang meet.
Although yin yang and wuxing have been symbolised for different purposes, there are still some strings attached. While yang is perceived as a more active and vibrant side, yin is considered to be the passive, and silent side. The elements represent their quality with respect to yin and yang.
- Water is the most fluid and silent element. It corresponds to the nature of 'yin'
- Wood is an active element that signifies growth, and expansion. Yet, this is less vibrant in terms of energy than fire. Hence, this element corresponds to 'lesser yang'
- Fire is the most active and vibrant element. Its characteristics corresponds to that of 'yang'
- Metal is stable and anchored. Yet, it is not as flexible as water. Hence, this corresponds to 'lesser ying'
- Earth is the most grounded element. It symbolises stability and balance. It is inclined towards neither of the two opposites. Hence, neither yin nor yang corresponds to earth. Earth is the space between yin and yang.
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2) The 5 Elements Transformation (Phases)
As we have previously said, these 5 elements are 5 processes or 5 phases. And they keep changing from one phase to another. However, the interaction is not random and has a certain way of operating.
There are generally two types of interactions which are as follows:
A. 5 Elements Generating Cycle
♻ This interaction is also known as the cycle of creation. This interaction entails how one element helps the other element find expression. It works as a parent and help the element to grow, and flourish. Every element makes way for the next element and hence this cycle of creation continues.
The cycle goes as follows:
- Wood helps fire
- Fire enriches the earth (through ash)
- Earth generates the metal
- Metals help to collect water
- Water nourishes wood.
This is just a symbolic representation of the phases of the cycle. In this way, the creation goes on.
B. 5 Elements Overcoming Cycle
💥 This is also known as the destructive cycle. However, the word destruction isn't necessary right. This cycle shows how one element has control over the other and it can also limit the expression of the other element.
The cycle goes as follows:
- Fire melts metal
- Metal chops wood
- Wood divides earth
- Earth holds back water
- Water extinguishes fire
This is how one element can control the expression of other element. This eternal cycle is known as overcoming Interaction.
3) The 5 Elements in Chinese Culture
🇨🇳 As we have already discussed, these 5 elements found its expression in all folds of the Chinese culture. Here are some examples as to how these elements influenced the native Chinese culture:
A. The 5 Elements in Traditional Chinese Medicine
5 elements have great influence on the traditional Chinese medicine system. It associated 5 main organs of the human body as 5 elements, which are as follows:
- Heart as fire
- Lung as metal
- Liver as woods
- Spleen as earth
- Kidney as water
It is used to study and analyse the interrelations among these organs and how they influence each other. Based on this, the medicine is prescribed 💉.
5 elements have its root even in acupuncture where each emotion is associated with an element and accordingly the acupuncture is done.
B. The 5 Elements in Feng Shui
Feng shui is largely considered with the flow of energy 🌀. This energy depends on size, form, direction, colour, and many more factors. We have already seen how each element is associated with a particular direction, colour, and shape. Hence, feng shui makes great use of these 5 elements by studying their associations and hence, impact on the flow of energy.
C. The 5 Elements in Chinese Martial Arts
🥋 Even Chinese Martial Arts have made use of these 5 elements. These have been used to describe various positions, motions, and even footwork. For example, position has been described as east, west, north, south, and centre which are associated with the 5 elements. It can also represent various moves such as 3 steps forward, and 2 steps backward. In this way, 5 elements have found its expression even in Chinese martial arts.
Through this article, we understood how wuxing is greatly instilled in the native Chinese culture. This Chinese philosophy works as the foundation of expression of many other fields. Through its in-depth exploration, we understood that these philosophies were not mere intellectual concepts. These had great experiential influences on people's lives.
Though used for many purposes, the central objective of all these philosophies was growth of individual human being towards higher consciousness. So that he can know what is worth knowing in life. He can experience the very source of creation. Then, these philosophies won't remain mere concepts any more. It will become a living experience for the seer.
Read next: What is Yang ? Yang is the white side of the Yin Yang symbol. It is the opposite of the Yin. Discover more about the Yang energy in this article: