The Five Elements (Wu Xing)
The five elements, together with the Yin and Yang
, form the physical universe.
It’s amazing to note that, to maintain the balance, the five elements support one another (the generating cycle), and oppose one another (the controlling cycle).
The generating cycle of the five elements
Water generates Wood, for without moisture there cannot be growth. Wood is the fuel to create Fire, and it is the action of heat on organic matter that produces Earth (think of a compost heap). Metal and minerals are generated from the Earth, and these filter and purify the Water that returns to feed the trees. So the cycle continues.
Chinese philosophers tried to explain how life was intricately bound together. They noticed the natural events in the changing season and this simple model:
Winter rains caused new green plants to emerge in the spring; these in turn were scorched by the heat of high summer, leading to forest fires that created ashes, and returned to earth. From the earth came the metal ores used by the early copper- and bronze smiths, while the cold metal surfaces caused water to condense, so completing the cycle.
The Controlling cycle of the five elements
The internal links between the Elements are referred to as the Controlling Cycle.
This balances the Generating Cycle and explains the connections between the Elements. For example, Water will keep Fire in check and Fire can make Metal usable. The hardness of Metal is required to tame Wood. Without the controlling structure of roots, the Earth would collapse and be in disarray. Water is without shape and will always sink to the lowest level: it is Earth that defines its outline.
In terms of bodily functions, this is expressed through the organ relationships between each of the Five Elements. Each Element has an associated Yin and Yang organ.
The Five Elements Link
|Solid Organ (Zang)
|Hollow Organ (Fu)
||Blood vessels/ Complexion