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1. The Four Pillars of Destiny

Of the four most commonly used Chinese systems of fortune telling popular today, the Four Pillars of Destiny is probably the most widely recognised and sought after. It is also considered to be the most logical and reliable. It’s an intriguing system unique to the Chinese and although it is frequently translated into English as Chinese Astrology, it is not in fact astrology per se. Whereas astrology, or better still astromancy depends upon the positioning of the planetary bodies at the precise moment of one’s birth, and the affect these are deemed to have over our own planet and the fate of humankind, Chinese Four Pillars of Destiny is based on the uniquely Chinese perspective of Yin Yang Five Element theory. From this astrophysical viewpoint everything in the cosmos is either Yin or Yang. This binary perspective of the cosmos is very ancient indeed and formulates the very essence of the way the traditional Chinese world view perceived the universe. The manner in which Yin and Yang interact with each other is through the transformations of the Five Elements of:

  • Earth
  • Metal
  • Water
  • Wood
  • Fire

These can be further divided into Yang (greater), Yin (lesser) or forms.

  • Yang Earth
  • Yin Earth
  • Yang Metal
  • Yin Metal
  • Yang Water
  • Yin Water
  • Yang Wood
  • Yin Wood
  • Yang Fire
  • Yin Fire

The system is predicated on the concept that at any given time one can perceive these cosmological dynamics from two, mutually interactive sources; those of Heaven and those of Earth. Their interaction has a direct effect on the third (middle) of the previously three recognised dynamics, man. In this way, the matrix of Heaven above, Earth beneath, Man in between is looked upon as an intricate whole and not as three unrelated units.

The manner in which Heaven and Earth especially interrelate with each other and in particular of course, for us as humans, their influence upon Man, are not random and do not act in pure chaos; they are governed by the laws of Nature just like everything else in the Universe. They are cyclical. Without seasons there is no life and in the same manner, just as we can predict the coming and going of the seasons, so too this system is able to calculate with remarkable accuracy the dynamics at work on ourselves and our fellow men. The Four Pillars of Destiny tracks and allows us to study these cosmic patterns and the effects of their interactions.

In this system, the timing of events plays a major role in deciphering why what happens, happens and why it happens the way it happens. By taking into consideration the Heavenly and Earthly dynamics as expressed through the Five Elements, a kind of cosmic blueprint can be drawn up covering any given event, including the exact dynamics at the moment of our own birth. In this regard it is a unique perspective on the passing of time and is directly linked to the traditional Chinese Farmer’s calendar.

This calendar known as the Xia Calendar (since it dates from the Xia Dynasty when it was first developed) marks the passing of the seasons in a wholly and uniquely Chinese way. By setting out the four seasons in a cyclical or circular fashion and attributing to each of these one of four of the five elements, it starts a process of interactions between the Earthly, (corporeal) and the Heavenly or cosmic. Thus when drawn up it is a cyclical list of interactions between Heaven and Earth and subsequently their effect on Mankind.

The arrangement of the four seasons and their four associated elements is:

  • Spring with Wood
  • Summer with Fire
  • Autumn with Metal
  • Winter with Water

Earth, the fifth element acts as an interstice at the end of each season and is thus represented four times through out the year.

The system known as The Four Pillars of Destiny is composed then of the Year, Month, Day and Hour of a person’s birth into four columns of information known as the Four Pillars of Destiny. The information contained in the Five Element data thus presented is in essence a catalogue of Heaven and Earth’s interaction with one another as it plays out in the life of an individual. It is the interaction between the heavenly dynamic known as the Heavenly Stem, and the earthly dynamic, referred to as the Earthly Branch, present in such a list of specific moments in time that is then analysed for the destiny of the individual concerned. (Other events such as the founding of a country, a company or even natural disasters like the Boxing Day Tsunami can be evaluated and analysed using the system)

From these so called Four Pillars, can be discerned character, personality, physical form, (Yin metal women for example, are said to be especially feminine and pretty but like their name sake, they are thought to be steely hard in their resolve, whereas those born under the auspices of yin fire are not only inclined to being explosively emotional and fiery tempered, they also suffer from problems with their speech etc.) Interpersonal relationships between parents and grandparents, one’s self and one’s parents and one’s own children and of course with one’s spouse, if indeed there is likely to be a suitable spouse, can all be determined from the interplay of these elements in this format.

Additional information can then be acquired from a further arrangement known as the Pillars of Luck. These are ten year periods in which further insights can be followed from the pattern of the relationships between one’s self and the factors at play in one’s life at any given time throughout these periods.


Bruce Lee’s Four Pillars of Destiny

17th Nov 1943

The system is also known as Ba Tse or the Eight Characters, a reference to the eight Chinese characters used to draw up the list in the four respective columns. Those on the top line are known as the Heavenly Stems and are configured of the Five Elements in either their Yang or Yin form. (See picture of Bruce Lee’s Four Pillars above). Those on the bottom line represent the temporal (Earth’s) four seasons but are presented in their more easily recognised astrological formats of the twelve animal signs of the Chinese zodiac: The Rat, the Ox, and Tiger etc. and as such are more easily recognised to Westerners as the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac.

Other names the system is known by are Tsu Ping which is both the name of the scholar who refined it in the 9th century CE and can be taken to mean ‘Balancing Water’ which is a direct reference to exactly what is hoped to be gained from an analysis of the data – a balancing of the five elements: water, wood, fire, earth and metal.

It is also called Ming Li by some which can be translated as Theory of Life.