"The fact is, heaven has its emblems, and yet they are not manifest in human speech. It revolves the stellar essences up above, pours forth the divine luminance into the world below, marks the winds and the clouds to reveal anomalies, and employs as agents the birds and beasts for communication with the spirits. Now, in revealing anomalies, the winds and clouds are definitely marked by rising and fallings, and in communication with the spirits, there must be natural sounds fitted to the central musical spirits."
Night before last, I was watching a rather smashing Chinese film, Red Cliff, which dramatizes an event at the close of the Han dynasty: a decisive battle was won by observing the winds. I found this captivating, because I have a long time interest in 風角 (feng jiao, or feng chiao): divination by means of the wind.
So, I went searching around in boxes for a couple of hours, and came up with a small booklet on the subject I wrote in 1980, later re-published (in an even smaller edition) by Lantian Haiyang Yixuede Zhensuo, in 2002. This is entitled Wind Angles: The Rare Art of Feng-chiao.
Now, at the time it was first published, this was about the only thing on the subject you could find in the English language. I believe that since then, there has been some small scholastic interest. I see a 1988 item from Michael Loewe in the SOARS Bulletin, "The Oracles of the Clouds and the Winds," later incorporated in his 1994 work, Divination, mythology and monarchy in Han China, wherein he says, yes indeed, the term feng-chiao emerges in the later Han, when the art itself became used for military matters. We also find notice in Richard J. Smith's 1991 book, Fortune-Tellers & Philosophers: Divination in Traditional Chinese Society.
Watching films, like reading comic books, is no good for you, and collecting obscure academic efforts is even worse.
I once had a conversation with Trungpa Rinpoche about the art, which he found endlessly fascinating. We were at Barnet, Vermont, in 1971 -- this was the occasion when he officiated at my wedding -- and we were watching the wind change direction across a small valley. I was predicting when this would happen, and so we began chatting about feng-chiao. Rinpoche began discoursing at length about the seed syllable YAM -- one of those fragile, spontaneous transmissions that quite simply overwhelm at the time. This segued into a rollicking discourse on tsa-lung, so now you know what led up to the wedding. These things that happen inside also happen outside, don't you know?
As to using observation of the wind as a means of divination, Rinpoche reckoned it was "utterly natural and appropriate," but felt that the classically pure Chinese art was largely unknown in Tibet, with the possible exception of Princess Wen Cheng. This is reasonable, because the art really found full flower in the Tang dynasty. This is something that would have been completely familiar to her.
When you begin thinking about these things, you also recognize that in early Sino-Tibetan Buddhist art, the wind goddess is often depicted holding a white scarf. Our illustration, above, is actually from Kizil, but you get the idea. Tibet is of course one of the windiest places on earth, and we immediately connect Tibetans with scarves. When you are given a scarf, you are really being gifted with a wind of good fortune. See how the mind endlessly elaborates? That is how divination works: by striking concordances between elaborations.
So, then ---
Here are a few comments from around 30 years ago -- maybe even longer than that -- interspersed with vague medical breezes from there and since.
Of winds there are eight names to know, associated in turn with eight directions; eight trigrams; eight sub-seasons of forty-five days each; eight musical instruments; fives tones, and twelve pitches. To know these is to know the foundation of feng-chiao. To know the foundation of feng-chiao is to know the character of coming events.
T'IAO: The directing wind.
Direction: North East; trigram, ken; tone, chio; instrument, mouth organ; season, winter-spring year begins; element, latent wood; favored activities, issuance of unimportant dispatches, dismissing, delaying, restraining. In medical terms, this is the ferocious wind. If morbid, it settles in the large intestine and lodges externally under the bones below the lateral costal region and axilla, and in the limb joints.
MING-HSU: The wind that illuminates all beings.
Direction: East; trigram, chen; tone, chih; instrument, flute; season, spring; element, wood; dominant activities, appoint boundaries, repair fields. In medical terms, this is the infant wind. If morbid, it settles in the liver and lodges externally between the sinews and the bone, where it is capable of giving rise to dampness.
CH'ING-MING: The wind of pure brightness.
Direction: South East; trigram, sun; tone, shang; instrument, wood clapper; season, spring-summer; element, latent fire; favored activities, issue presents of silk, keep all employed. In medical terms, this is the enfeebling wind. If morbid, it settles in the stomach and lodges externally in the muscles, where it is capable of giving rise to generalized heaviness.
CHING: The wind of bright sunlight.
Direction: South; trigram, li; tone, kung; instrument, lute; season, summer; element, fire; favored activities, give ranks to nobles, reward the meritorious. In medical terms, this is the great enfeebling wind. If morbid, it settles in the heart and lodges externally in the vessels, where it is capable of giving rise to heat.
LIANG: The cool breeze.
Direction: South West; trigram, k'un; tone, kung; instrument, earthern crock; season, summer-autumn; element, latent metal; favored activities, report on efficiency of the land, make sacrifices at the four suburbs. In medical terms, this is the intriguing wind, or mou feng. If morbid, it settles in the spleen and lodges externally in the muscles, where it is capable of giving rise to weakness.
CH'ANG-HO: The wind of gates shut upon efflugent sunlight.
Direction: West; trigram, tuei; tone, yu; instrument, bells; season, autumn; element, metal; favored activities, conservation. In medical terms, this is the unyielding wind, or gang feng. If morbid, it settles in the lung and lodges externally in the skin, where it is capable of giving rise to dryness.
PU-CHOU: The wind of imperfection.
Direction: North West; trigram, ch'ien; tone, chio; instrument, stone chimes; season, autumn-winter; element, latent water; favored activities, repair palaces and dwellings, improve banks and city walls. In medical terms, this is the breaking wind. If morbid, it settles in the small intestine and lodges externally in the hand tai yang vessel. If the vessel expires there is diarrhea; if the vessel is blocked, there is flow stoppage often giving rise to sudden death.
KUANG-MO: The wind of devoidness of extensive power.
Direction: North; trigram, k'an; tone, shang; instrument, drum; season, winter year ends; element, water; favored activities, close gates and bridges, execute punishments. In medical terms, this is the great unyielding wind. If morbid, it settles in the kidney and lodges externally in the bones and paravertebral sinews in the shoulder and the upper back, where it is capable of giving rise to cold.
The whole of the art as commonly practiced is to make observation of the wind on a specific day, noting its direction of origin, time of origin, intensity, and characteristic. One then relates the observation to experience and makes prognostication as to the state of affairs to come. One also notes the tones produced by the categories of beings, such as the tones produced by throngs of people or birds, analyzing these in terms of the eight directions, twelve pitches, and the time of day.
The five tones and twelve pitches are as follows:
KUNG: The tone of princes. The rumbling of thunder in autumn; the army is of good accord; soldiers and officers agree; the element is earth.
SHANG: The tone of ministers. The peals of thunder in autumn; great victory in battles; strong soldiers; the element is metal.
CHIO: The tone of people. The violent winds of summer; the army is troubled; soldiers lose courage; the element is wood.
CHIH: The tone of affairs. Lightning flashes in autumn; the army is restkess and irritated; soldiers are tired; the element is fire.
YU: The tone of beings. Cloudburst in spring and summer; soldiers are soft; no glory in battle; the element is water.
The twelve pitches are the common ones, viz. huang, thai, ku, jui, i, wu, ta, chia, chung, lin, nan, ying.
How are such things possible? The Chinese practitioners have given us their explanation, based on the theory of correspondences. There is also a basis acceptable Western science. For example: relative humidity impacts the transmission of sound waves according to their frequency. The higher the humidity, the greater the transmission distance.
Acoustical engineers from UCLA conducted a series of studies in a concert hall to examine the phenomena. They found that at 15% relative humidity, a 4,000Hz tone lasts 2.5 seconds. Under conditions of higher humidity the same tone lasts 4.5 seconds. They also determined that a higher frequency tone of 10,000Hz in low humidity is absorbed seven times faster than a low frequency 1,500Hz tone.
The British Navy conducted similar tests with foghorns, noting that when humidity dropped from 77% to 71%, the distance at which a foghorn could be heard dropped by almost two miles.
As an aside: since qi is essentially an infrasonic phenomena, this is interesting, you know? Some people have to live in very low humidity in order to feel well. Others feel better in high humidity.
So, if we wish, we can consider feng-chiao to be a remarkably accurate albeit rudimentary expression of ground-level climatologic and biometeorological inference -- this last being the branch of ecology dealing with the interrelations between physical factors of atmospheric environment and living organisms: full circle to the theory of correspondences.
The deeper concordances are possible only with reference to the theory of correspondences. In such instances, we relate the time, direction, and synchronous events to their symbolic or emblematic properties and draw inferences thereby.
As an example, the great Chinese diviner Kuan Lu was presented with the phenomenon of a small whirlwind arising in the east, whirling around the interior of the courtyard to the home of a person named Wang Hungchih, and then dissipating.
Kuan Lu was asked to divine the meaning of this and replied, "A mounted messenger is about to arrive from the east. I fear a father will be weeping for his son."
The following day, a messenger arrived on horseback and informed Wang Hungchih that his son had died.
Kuan Lu explained his prediction thusly:
"The day was the fifty-second day of the sexegenary cycle, a day that corresponds to the eldest son. Now, wood declines in the ninth branch, shen, and the tail of the dipper sets up in shen. Shen, the ninth branch, counteracts the third branch, yin, so this corresponds to acts of death and mourning. The sun had entered the sector of the sixth branch, as it was midday, and a wind arose, which corresponds to a horse. The hexagram li means writing, and it is therefore clearly a sign of a clerk-messenger. The juncture of the hours shen and wei, 3 a.m., is the time of the tiger. Tiger stands for the master. This was therefore the indication of the father."
To some of us, this will seem like an exercise in successive syllogisms, but by such means were affairs of state decided for thousands of years.
I also want to note that it is possible to take cosmic "soundings" by observation of the wind's course through an entire day, and it is possible to take "bites" by observation of the wind's course within a double hour. In the case of the former, one arises at dawn and observes the course of the wind, clouds, light, and other phenomena throughout the day. In the words of Ssu Ma Ch'ien:
"If the wind should change direction, the more forceful wind is the one to observe; if the prognostication of one is 'small' and the other 'great' then take note of the one which indicates the greater augury. [A] long-lasting wind has a superior portent to a short-lasting one."
As the example given above of Kuan Lu in action should illustrate, feng-chiao could and often was used in combination with other arts to make an isolated prediction. It can also be employed alone to take a short-term reading of a particular situation. Those of you who wish to attempt this method can enjoy yourselves by following a simplified course.
Step One: Orient yourself as to direction. Note the wind season and its corresponding element. Observe the wind's direction of travel. Note the element corresponding to the direction and examine the relationship between the two.
Step Two: Orient yourself as to time. Note the stem-branch combination of the day. Note the element that corresponds to the double-hour of the day and any other correspondence of interest. Examine the relationship between the elements and emblems. You might examine, at this point, the ruling trigram of the observed wind and the ruling trigram of the hour, making a hexagram from both, or merely noting their agreement or opposition. You might observe the relationships between the ruling branches in terms of their cycle.
Step Three: Relate the above steps to any question you may have framed in your mind or any question that has been framed for you by observed phenomena.
This is a very crude introduction to feng-chiao but useful in the sense that it accustoms you to the manner of drawing predictive information from the wind based on correspondences. As proficiency increases, the further nuance of tone and pitch may be added to determine the relative intensity of qi in any given circumstance, and a host of other meanings.
I regret that feng-chiao is an art that cannot be taught by means of the written word but can only be acquired by instinctive means. It is, for example, possible to know well in advance when the wind will change direction and what direction will harbor the change. It is impossible to say how this is done, other than to say it is felt beforehand, perhaps a function of pressure gradients.
It is also possible to "see" latent wind, not in the sense that one notices what is, but in the sense that one notices what is not. For example: we notice the effect wind has on clouds, trees, leaves, and soaring birds. We can also notice the void such action produces and this void is the residence of the latent wind, which rises as manifest wind fades. Likewise, we can listen to the cry of a crow and by noting the hour of the day, the position of the crow, the tone of the cry, and the nature of the wind, we can draw information abouth forthcoming events.
So, then ---
There is an even easier way of looking at things, and that is to consider all appearance and existence as deity, mantra, and wisdom. You already know this.
You know that after you get done babbling about what the crows said, or what the concordances are, or the correspondences, are, you can just throw all of that away. Actually, you can use it as a means of purification, and then you don't have to throw anything away.
Sooner or later, all the tones and pitches will come down to om, ah, and hum. Sooner or later, you will become involved with the hum of any given possibility.
Sooner or later, the position you seem to hold will dissolve and the investigation will end. When you come to understand that all appearances are fabricated by the mind, all the agitation of "seeking" or "knowing" just naturally disappears.
We can say that is a kind of predicate to remembering everything we've ever heard while at the same time hearing things we've never heard.
I could go on and on, but that is only because I am a big bag of wind.