The Heru, Luoshu and Chinese Cosmology

Life is about connections and vibrations

What is it that we fundamentally connect to that our consciousness is attracted to by the vibrations we ultimately follow, if and when we become awakened? It is when we come into alignment with this superior force and synchronize with it, that we can begin to know our way. It was this that the earliest shaman learned by following the sun, moon and stars and observing his natural environment and how things in nature reacted to them. They learned that things happen as a direct response to an alternative action. That when acting in unison as complementary opposite’s things can naturally occur by themselves. This was the essence of Taoism. What was universal was the idea that there are not favorites. It was how to connect with this vibration that a name was needed. The Tao and the ten thousand things (everything imaginable) and God (the undefinable) were universal and that God would be the entity that determines the ultimate outcome.

The ancient Chinese answer to this phenomenon was yin/yang, the I Ching. The I Ching was/has been developed and modified over a period of five thousand years and was a direct connection to the movement of the stars, the sun, moon and planets, i.e., the universe and how an individual’s own personal vibrations interacted with them. Patterns emerged that verified cause and effect. What goes into something has a direct correlation to what comes out. The power of observation became and is still the key. This is the essence of astrology and following the cosmos or stars for direction. The early Chinese were very serious about this and developed the first observatory to monitor the planets, sun, moon and stars. They could predict eclipses of sun and moon and the Emperor depended on these observations to give direction for sacred rites, planting in spring and harvesting in the fall, etc, etc… If the Emperor was wrong he could/would lose the throne to someone else, or those making erroneous prediction could lose their heads. How did the I Ching begin and how could you measure what it meant as to how things were/are connected, and how do our own internal vibrations interact with it. For thousands of years the shaman had the answers, In about 200 AD the Emperor said every city must have temple and shrine to Confucius… The old shrines honoring the shaman were removed. The new world would be about connections and vibrations, but modified to fit the norm now in place.

The Hetu 河圖 “Yellow River Chart” and the Luoshu 洛書 (also written 雒書) “Inscription of the River Luo” are two cosmological diagrams used in ancient China. They along with the  Great Unity of the Nine Palaces are employed by both Taoists and Confucians and serve to explain the correlation of the hexagrams of the I Ching, Yijing 易經 “Book of Changes” with the universe and human life. They are also used in geomancy (fengshui 風水). The two diagrams are first mentioned in the chapter Guming 顧命 of the Confucian Classic Shangshu  尚書 “Book of Documents”, where it is said that the three precious jades and the Hetu are stored in the Eastern Chamber. It can thus be assumed that the Hetu was a kind of jade stone the texture of which were interpreted as the eight trigrams (bagua 八卦) of the (I Ching) Yijing.

The Han Period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) commentator Kong Anguo 孔安國 to the Shangshu is the first who mentions the legend of a dragon horse (longma 龍馬) that emerged out of from the Yellow River and whose back was patterned with the shape of the eight trigrams. The diagram seen on the back of the horse  was the so-called “River Chart” that was written down by Emperor Fu Xi 伏羲 and preserved as the eight trigrams. As an auspicious omen, the horse regularly appeared during the reigns of the virtuous rulers Yao 堯, Shun 舜 and Yu 大禹. Confucius 孔子 lamented that during his lifetime, the horse did not appear again, which was a bad portent of unlucky times. The Inscription of the River Luo is first mentioned in the book Guanzi 管子, where it is said that a dragon turtle (longgui 龍龜) left the waters of the River Luo, so that an inscription was seen on its back, actually also a pattern of the shell, that could be interpreted as the eight trigrams in a constellation different to that on the Hetu. Similarly to the dragon horse, the turtle appeared during lucky times when virtuous rulers reigned the empire and ceased to be seen when bad and selfish men governed the world.

 Both inscriptions are mentioned in the Xici 繫辭 commentary of the (I Ching) Yijing. The sage rulers read and interpreted the River Chart and the Luo Inscription and modeled their reign according to the evidence provided in the two diagrams. Yet the same text also says that Fu Xi invented the arrangement of the trigrams after observing the starry sky and all things on earth, without referring to the River Chart.

The story of the two diagrams as representative of a golden age is repeated in the book Baihu tongyi  白虎通義 of the Han period, and the scholar Liu Xin 劉歆 said that the “Inscription of the Luo” was found by Yu the Great when he tamed the floods. He interpreted this inscription and came to the conclusions made in the correlative cosmology described in the chapter Hongfan 洪範 of the Shangshu. While the Hetu is connected with the eight trigrams, the Luoshu is related to the Five Processes 五行.

Archaeological findings from the Yangshao 仰韶 and Dawenkou 大汶口 cultures (the Dawenkou were found in Shandong Province along the Yellow River and is an area I am very familiar with today) have shown that the patterns to be found in the two charts and in the hexagrams date from the Neolithic age. The distribution of the numbers is also identical to that found in the numbers in the chart on the prognostication dish of the Great Unity of the Nine Palaces (taiyi jiugong zhanpan 太乙九宮占盤) from the Warring States Period 戰國 (500 -221 BCE) found in Fuyang 阜陽, Anhui.

As an explanation of the Great Unity of the Nine Palaces, this served as the original connection of man and nature to the cosmos and universe. It often took on the personality of the shaman and how well he was able to communicate these “universal truths”. This created different resonances in divination, meditation, and medical context in what would later become Taoist traditions. The Nine Palaces were the groupings of stars that were identified that traversed the heavens. After giving a name to these groupings (the Great Bear for example), one could follow the movement of these stars over time and a “Great Unity” (the stars moving in unison) could be established.  In turn, these “groupings” became a useful metaphor for other sacred spaces. From the Confucius Temple in Qufu, the Forbidden City in Beijing, and numerous other “Temples” designed and constructed over thousands of years would follow these themes honoring man’s commitment to the heavens and cosmology. As referred to above, the Hetu 河圖 “Yellow River Chart” and the Luoshu 洛書 (also written 雒書) “Inscription of the River Luo” are two cosmological diagrams used in ancient China.  These were diagrams of the movement of the stars through the Nine Palaces described above.

Because of their enigmatic character, both charts were used in the interpretation of the Confucian Classics that flourished during the Han period. The imperial bibliography Jingjizhi 經籍志 of the official dynastic history, Suishu 隋書 says that there were nine chapters of text about the Hetu and 6 chapters about the Luoshu. Although the compilers of the Suishu purported that these books were compiled during the ages of the mythical rulers of the past, it is certain that they date from the Han period or somewhat later.

Tang period scholars were not very interested in the two charts, and they only gained prominence again during the Song period 宋 (960-1279). The Taoist scholar Chen Tuan 陳摶 is said to have received a dragon chart (longtu 龍圖) from the Taoist Master Mayi 麻衣道者 and transmitted it to his own disciples Zhong Fang 種放, Li Gai 李溉, Xu Jian 許堅, Fan Echang 范諤昌 and Liu Mu 劉牧. Another branch of disciples were Mu Xiu 穆修, Li Zhicai 李之才 and the mathematician Shao Yong 邵雍 who was one of the early Song Neo-Confucians. The great Southern Song period Neo-Confucian Zhu Xi 朱熹 took over Shao Yong’s transmitted shape of the two charts and used them for his interpretation of the I Ching (Yijing), the Zhouyl benyl 周易本義. Interestingly enough, Liu Mu’s two charts just had the opposite configuration of the trigrams as that of Shao Yong, so that Shao Yong’s Hetu corresponded to Liu Mu’s Luoshu and vice versa. Apart from Shao Yong’s and Zhu Xi’s version, there is the Yinyang yutu 陰陽魚圖 “Fish chart of Yin and Yang”, a very popular version of the constellation of the eight trigrams, with the trigrams forming the outer frame and a black (Yin) and white (Yang) field the center. The two fields are shaped in curves and creeping into each other to express the permanent fluctuation between Yin and Yang during the seasons. It is the much more famous of the trigram charts and is widely used in Taoist circles, where it became the symbol of Taoism. 

Numerological speculation was very common among the Neo-Confucians. Zhu Zhen’s 朱震 book Zhouyi guatu 周易挂圖 says that the white circles in the Hetu chart sum up to an odd number (25), the black circles to an even number (20), with a total sum of 45. The white circles in the Luoshu chart are 25, black circles 30, with a total sum of 55. While the Hetu symbolized the theory and substance (ti 體) behind all things, the congenital and innate (xiantian 先天) nature of things, the Luoshu symbolized that practical aspect (yang 用) and the state of things how they are and live (houtian 後天).

The main number of the Hetu is 10; 1 and 6 express the ancestral (zong 宗, Celestial) nature, 2 and 7 the Way (tao 道), 3 and 8 friendship (peng 朋), 4 and 9 mutual support (you 友), and 5 and 10 protection and safety (shou 守). The main number of the Luoshu in 9; head is 9, feet is 1, left is 3, right is 7, 2 and 4 are the shoulders, 6 and 8 the legs, and 5 is the number of the physical center. The Hetu also expresses geographical directions, each of the nine regions of the empire (jiuchou 九疇, jiuzhou 九州) represented by one symbol of the chart. The cipher 9 also stands for the Nine Palaces (jiugong 九宮) of the earth, while the cipher 5 represented in the center of the Luoshu symbolized the Five Processes.

During the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) Confucians like Huang Zongxi  黄宗羲 or Hu Wei 胡謂 contradicted the cosmological interpretation of the Neo-Confucians. In his inscription Wan Gongze muzhi ming 萬公擇墓志銘, Huang Zongxi assumed that the Hetu and Luoshu were very crude geographical maps of ancient times. Yet it is more probable that the charts served as a theoretical illustration of the universe for the purpose of prognostication, or to symbolize the elements of which the cosmos or the body were believed to consist.

(References include the website and The Encyclopedia of Taoism, edited by Fabrizio Pregadio.