Chinese Astrology and Inner Cultivation*
Since the 2010 publication of my book, The 12 Chinese Animals — Create Harmony in Your Daily Life through Ancient Chinese Wisdom, friends have often asked me about the significant of the Chinese animal symbols in their daily lives and in their cultivation practices. It seems that many people might not understand how important knowledge of the animal signs is to their Qigong and spiritual cultivation. In response, I would like to start with a brief background on my interest in Chinese astrology.
I grew up in a traditional fishing village in southeast China. For my entire upbringing, I saw that people commonly used astrology to help make decisions about important events, like finding a spouse, setting a wedding date, building a house, opening a business, health issues, etc. Our village had no electricity, piped water, or any roads (only footpaths). As you can well imagine, we all lived very closely with the rhythms of nature. Chinese astrology is an art of living in harmony with the hourly, daily, monthly, and yearly cycles of life – the art form with which Chinese used to be deeply connected.
As long as I can remember, people of my village have always consulted the local Yijing or astrology experts whenever in need of guidance or support. I was fascinated by the accuracy of their advice and of their ability to predict outcome. I became interested in learning more about astrology and its connection to Chinese medicine and to the Yijing prediction system. I began to study this art because I wanted to help others. Today, my passion lies in teaching Qigong, Taiji, and the Yijing to help people create harmony in their lives. Over the last three+ decades of teaching these ancient Chinese wisdom traditions, I have seen that Chinese astrology is a great tool to help guide people through their life and their inner cultivation practices.
2. The Complexity of Chinese Astrology
In the West, it seems that most people think Chinese astrology refers only to their yearly animal sign. I think this misconception is intentional, born from an effort to offer an over-simplified view of Chinese astrology that is more accessible to the general public.
In China, people commonly know the astrology terms BaZi 八字 (eight characters) or MingLi 命理 (principle of your destiny or karma), but only a small amount of people actually understand how to put together and interpret a chart. Most people look for an expert to help them. Even in China, it can be challenging to find someone who is well qualified and skillful. Of course it is easy find a fortune teller on the street, but most street performers are typically pretty inaccurate. The Chinese astrology system is extremely complicated, the complexities of which are difficult for many of us to decode.
In my afore mentioned book, The 12 Chinese Animals, I discuss the animal signs as they relate to the year, month and hour of birth in order to help people gain a broader understanding of their chart. Although important, please note that I do not go into detail about how to find the daily animal sign in this book, as explaining it would involve translating the Chinese GanZhi 干支 calendar. You could learn how to calculate the daily animal sign yourself though my wife’s book, Calculating the BaZi.
There is a relationship between the 12 Chinese zodiac animals and the 12 tidal hexagrams of the Yijing. The Yijing of course, is a method of understanding the rhythms of nature and the rhythms of life. Please bear in mind that the twelve animals are just one aspect of Chinese astrology — creating and understanding a whole chart for the sake of prediction is a sophisticated process.
3. Make Better Choices
Cultivating with Chinese animal symbols will allow you to understand the patterns of your life and of your karma. As you become increasingly aware of how your animal signs (which are representations of different universal energies) influence your life, you will better understand your strengths and your weaknesses. Empowered with this insight into your self, you will be able to cultivate your gifts and refine your challenges, which will help you make clear decisions that allow your life flow more easily and that bring you great success in your pursuits.
I use these practices to guide my daily inner cultivation in order to balance life and strengthen my body and spirit. The practices vary depending on how my chart relates to particular the hour, day, month, season, year, or external life event of the moment. This brings an experience of relating with my self, my family, and with nature in a peaceful and harmonious way. For example, I will check the Chinese calendar to pick out dates for travel, signing a contract, or for teaching. We also could set our daily routine (sleeping, cultivation practices, menu planning, food preparation, etc) according the energies of the animal symbols, in order to create a healthy daily rhythm for our family.
4. Shape Our Destiny
If we want to change our karma, we have to know what our karma is. Understanding Chinese astrology is more than just shedding light on karma or making predictions about the future. The true purpose of an astrology reading is to guide us to make changes in our lives, including changes in our daily lifestyle habits and in larger life decisions. Many people receive direction from their chart when seeking healing and balance within ourselves and in relationships. Once we have a grasp on the dynamics of the universal energies present in our lives, we can guide our Qigong and spiritual cultivation practices to change our karma, to remain centered when something unexpected happens, to steer clear of trauma, and to put us on the path of health, prosperity, and longevity.
For thousands of years, the essence of Chinese philosophy holds that life is not merely controlled by fate or karma:
wo ming zai wo bu zai tian 我命在我不在天
My life is in my hands, and is not controlled by fate
Through mindfulness and effort, we all have the ability to change our karma and achieve true autonomy. When you become well versed in the 12 tidal hexagrams of the Yijing and their related animal symbols, you will be able to find your inner peace and live in harmony with your family, your community, and with nature.
As the 2023 Chinese animal sign, Rabbit, officially starts on February 4th, you are welcome to join my online offering, Daoist Solar New Year Ceremony and Sound Healing, if you would like to get a taste of a traditional Daoist animal sign cultivation practice.
I would also like to share some information here about the energetic pattern of the Rabbit and its associated inner cultivation from my book, The 12 Chinese Animals.
5. The Rabbit
The rabbit has a quiet and gentle nature, and it looks cute. Rabbits give you a soft, easy going, slow, and stable feeling when they are quiet. However, once they start running, they are very fast and agile. They also create an intricate system of dens which allows them to be very good at staying hidden. Rabbits do not have sharp teeth, and they are not interested in fighting with others.
In the Chinese tradition, the Rabbit is a symbol for wisdom, skill, ambition, humanity, and secrets. It is the fourth animal symbol in the 12 Chinese Animals System. We use Mao 卯 to represent the Rabbit symbol in the 12 Earthly Branches. Mao is a symbol for the 05:00–06:59 time of day, and for the second month in the Chinese Lunar-Solar calendar, which is approximately March 6 to April 5 in the Gregorian solar calendar. Mao represents the sunrise time of day and the spring blossom blooming month of the year. It is a time or a place where Yang energy (life energy) is getting into its strong stage in a new life cycle.
Having a Rabbit animal symbol in your Chinese birth chart suggests you are clever, intelligent, skillful, agile, kind, and compassionate, and can sometimes be surreptitious or over-cautious. You have great awareness around knowing when it is time to take action and when it is time to have a rest, which will help you to work consistently to achieve your goals. You do not like to take risks in your life. You enjoy steady progress when getting your things done. Your cautious nature will allow you to continue your tasks to completion.
6. Inner Cultivation Ceremony with DaZhuang 大壮
We use the tidal hexagram DaZhuang to symbolize Rabbit.
At any time when you need help to find your strength, or you would like to experience more flourishing in your life, light a candle in front of you and start this meditation:
First straighten your back and feel that your body is stable like a mountain. Then, make the DaZhuang mudra by placing each thumb on the second crease of the index finger. The second crease of the index finger is related to the hexagram DaZhuang.
Keeping your fingers relaxed and close together, place your palms by your ears and seal your ears with your middle fingers.
Adjust your breathing to be slow, smooth, deep, and even.
Feel each breath connecting with your large intestines and liver.
Meditate as long as you can.
I am sending auspicious wishes to you and your families for the Year of the Yin Water Rabbit, GuiMao 癸卯!
Like this article? There is more like it on Substack, join me there!
*Portions of this article come from my previous article, “Chinese Astrology and Inner Cultivation,” originally published in Empty Vessel: A Journal of Daoist Philosophy and Practice, Winter 2011.