If you have a little familiarity with Daoism then you know that for Daoists the final goal is to obtain longevity, to not die, and to become an immortal. There were many methods developed in Daoism, like bigu 辟谷dietetics, refining external elixirs, refining internal elixirs (neidan 内丹) and many others. But there is one extremely important method that many people know about, but often ignore, that Daoists in temples often use to earn some money for their families and temple upkeep.

This method is a way of taking a peek at the heavenly mechanism: divination. Daoists use a few different methods to divine their own destinies, such as at what times they will encounter difficulties, when it would be most beneficial for them to take a position, and even when they will fall ill and what part of the body will be affected. Then, they use various methods to avoid these problems. Or they will do good deeds and cultivate good fortune in order to extend their lifespans. In Chinese society, most people seek out fortune tellers to understand their destiny, while companies and the rich will use fortune telling to find someone suited to helping them or managing their companies, so many wealthy people in China and those in positions of power consult diviners.

Divination also has different schools, such as those that use the bazi 八字 (eight numbers of a person’s time of birth), reading faces, reading hands, and using “plum blossom” numerology (meihua yishu梅花易数). The most broadly used methods in Daoist temples most likely are related to the Yijing 易经, or commonly known as I Ching, translated as Book of Changes or Classic of Changes, the ancient Chinese divination text; but there are different ways of divining with the Yijing.

This method is a way of taking a peek at the heavenly mechanism:

At the Daoist temple I studied the liu yao 六爻 (the six lines that make up the hexagrams of the Yijing) method for using the Yijing. I understand the bazi and face reading to an extent, but when I was cloud wandering most of the divination I did to earn travel and living expenses was done using liu yao. At that time many workers’ wage was 500 RMB a month, but under the conditions the temple managers and  agreed to let me work under, I can  make over 1000 RMB in a day.

My environment led me to studying the Yijing, but it was also due to chance. After I had studied many years of kung fu on Wudang Mountain, I formally entered into a Daoist temple. There, the books and Daoists I came into contact with frequently discussed yin and yang, and a number of topics related to the Yijing. Daoist cultivation methods and Daoist medicine all use the philosophy of yin and yang as a theoretical foundation.

One day there were two Daoists, a master and a student from Louguan Tai, a temple in the Zhongnan Mountains in Shaanxi, who came to stay for a time at Wudang Mountain. The Daoist manager at Wudang Mountain had the teacher, Master Gao stay at Zixiao Gong, while the student, Master Wu, stayed at Taihe Gong. The student and I worked the ticket counter at the Daoist temples together. I knew kung fu, and he had also studied Taiji and kung fu before, so in this way we became friends who could talk about anything. When we went out for fun he would use the Yijing to divine how things would go, and if the trip would be fortunate. Every time we went out what he predicted would more or less happen. I also had a deep interest in the Yijing, and so when one day his teacher, Master Gao, came to visit Taihe Gong from Zixiao Gong Master Wu introduced me to him, and in this way we got to know each other. Later on, every time I went to Zixiao Gong I would look for Master Gao and ask him to teach me. When he was doing a divination for someone he would have me stand next to him pouring his tea. I watched him divine the hexagrams, and listened to his explanations. I asked about the things I did not understand. When I went cloud wandering to Hua Mountain, divination was very popular among the Daoists in the temples there. It was something that pretty much every Daoist knows about a little bit, and the methods that everyone used were different, though there were a few more than most who used the techniques from the Qimen Dunjia 奇门遁甲. Although the methods were different, everyone used the eight trigrams, five phases, and yin and yang as the same theoretical foundation.

I began divining for others when I cloud wandered to a temple on Mingfeng Mountain in Hubei, because I had no funds for travelling and the temple did not let me stay there officially, I lived with a Daoist in his own home (I’ve talked about him in a previous story). He was a great master of face reading, and while he did not like teaching, he let us look at his books on our own. Later when I was getting ready to leave and had no money, I set up a table on a well-travelled road and began to read fortunes. Because a month earlier we had accurately predicted that a Daoist believer would have a lawsuit and go bankrupt, when we had just started to give fortunes to people there were some regulations that we would first tell them what had previously happened. If it was not allowed then we would not be able to continue with the rest of the prediction. So, his friends all came to ask me to make a prediction. At that one time I was able to earn in two hours what the average person earned in a month. After that when I was cloud wandering it was only when I was out of money that I would help people with divination.

The Yijing is also called the Zhouyi 周易. “Yi” 易means to decrease and increase. As a character, the top of it is the sun, the bottom the moon. The sun and moon imply yang and yin. “Jing”  implies logic and reason, that there is a pattern that can be discerned. Combining these meanings indicates the places where the sun and moon shine—the places with yin and yang—all have patterns that can be discerned, and that all of the myriad things has their own logic in their development, which all can be predicted through the Yijing.

“Zhou”  refers to the Zhou Dynasty, to the Duke of Zhou. It was at this time that the posterior heaven sequence of the eight trigrams was said to have been discovered.

Author: Daoist Master Xuan Yun Zhou

Translator: Larson Di Fiori