Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wu Xing

The five elements (Wu Xing 五行) correspond to the five norms (Wu Chang 五常) or the five principles of virtues:

Wood - Benevolence 木為仁
Metal - Righteousness 金為義
Fire - Propriety 火為禮
Water - Wisdom 水為智
Earth - Trust 土為信

These are supposed to be the five norms of human behaviour. In other words, what is normal is already virtuous.

It is interesting that the five norms are quoted in the reverse controlling sequence. It will be a very interesting exercise to read into the generating and controlling cycles to see how these five normal human behaviours interact.

Note that you must give up the false notion of what is commonly called a "destroying cycle". Ke 剋, in most situations, has a positive meaning.

Sheng 生, Ke 剋; Ji 吉, Xiong 凶 - This fundamental notion is so simple and yet so simply misunderstood.



tanlang said...

without righteousness benevolence is nothing more than sentimentalism,with wisdom comes dignity(propierty),justice is a quality of the wise(salomon)
my two cents

Howard said...

Hi Joseph,

Thank you for another fine post, here is my two cents worth:

If we use the theory of “the sons of Wuxing avenging their father” 五行之子为父报仇 written in the classic “Baihutong” 白虎通, may we will be able to understand the Wuxing of the Five Virtues a little bit better.

For example, Wood destroys Earth, but since Earth give birth to Metal, Metal the son will in turn control Wood from its destructive behavior. So if Benevolence (Wood) tries to destroy Trust (Earth), the son of Trust that is Righteousness (Metal), will prevent Benevolence from destroying his father Trust and maintain good order.

This shows the Five Virtues or the Five Norms (Wu Chang 五常) are natural human behaviors necessary for our survival, therefore we should obey by them and by having them, everything will be normal and constant, that is Chang 常.

Howard Choy

Mellekai said...

Dear Master Yu,
two words seems important to me: norm and Ke 剋.
The norm (the virtues) is only received if we constantly try to achieve it through selfdevelopment.
Control brings beauty in motion (action) and stillness (thought).
The five elements help us to avoid stagnation during the process of refinement.
With my best regards

Howard said...

Hi Joseph,

Earlier I mentioned Baihutong, another two references that I can think of that are useful in our understanding of Wuxing and Wuchang are;

1) Chapter 38 of Laozi's Daodejing.
2) The relationship between the Confucian Five Norms and the Buddhist Five Precepts.

May be you would like to elaborate on them from a Wuxing point of view.


Joseph Yu said...

Dear Howard,

Your comments are inspiring as usual. I will post something later about Bai Hu Tong, Dao De Jing later.

The five precepts are indeed related to the five virtues:

1. Abstaining from taking life is righteousness. On the surface, it looks like related to kindness. If we look further, we will see that a lot of people go to war in the name of righteousness. This is abuse of righteousness.

2. Abstaining from taking what is not given is trust.

3. Abstaining from sexual misconduct is propriety.

4. Abstaining from false speech is kindness. At first glance, it is trust. However, if we consider the possible damages false speech can make, we will find that such deeds are most unkind.

5. Abstaining from drinks and drugs that cause heedlessness is wisdom.


sylvester_heart said...

Hi Joseph,

I found this page by chance while looking for the Wuchang (五常).
It's nice to see the link between Taoism Wu Xing (5 elements) and Buddhism 5 precepts.
What about the link with the Taoism 3 treasures, compassion (Ci 慈), frugality (Jian 儉) and humility (不敢為天下先)?

It would be also interesting to establish the link with Western philosophy and theology. Where there is 4 Cardinal Virtues (Prudentia=wisdom, Iustitia=justice, Temperantia=temperance, Fortitudo=courage) from ancient Greek philosophy and the 7 traditional (or modern) deadly sins (wrath, gluttony, extravagance (or lust), pride, avarice, acedia (or sloth), envy) and their healing virtues (patience, temperance, chastity, humility, charity, diligence, kindness).