The 28 Generals

At the heart of Chinese mythology are four spiritual creatures, each guarding a direction on the compass.  Each creature has a corresponding season, colour, element, and virtue.  Further, each corresponds to a quadrant in the sky, with each quadrant containing seven star constellations (also called moon stations or moon lodges).  There is a fifth direction - the center, representing China itself - which carries its own constellation…
 Mantak Chia, The Taoist Soul Body:  Harnessing the Power of Kan and Li, Kindle ed. loc 1778

Where to start?

There is a lot of information available in English about the Four Spiritual Creatures but almost nothing about the esoteric meaning behind the Chinese Lunar Constellations.  They come from a more ancient tradition that is little understood.

In their book The Chinese Sky during the Han, Constellating Stars & Society (1997, Page 96) Sun Xiaochun and Jacob Kistemaker indiate that the Chinese star names are related to:

(1) Heaven itself: sun, moon, and stars as names of constellations;

(2) Royal court and clan;

(3) Imperial bureaucracy and administration;

(4) All kinds of buildings and facilities;

(5) Military installations; armies and weapons;

(6) Traffic and transportation;

(7) Rituals, ceremonies and pictures of social life;

(8) Philosophical and religious concepts;

(9) Mythological and legendary figures;

(10) Administrative provinces and geographical features.

Their eighth category, "philosophical and religious concepts", are harder to find in English so I have also used their ninth category, "mythological and legendary figures", deconstructing it to locate the mystical teachings from which it emerged before other things were added to it.

The 28 lunar constellations have been incorporated into all kinds of practices in China - qigong, feng shui, astrology, keeping track of the solar-lunar calendar, etc...   Each system has its own point of view based on practical application.  Derek Walters, a world renowned Feng Shui expert, has done a tremendous amount of research into the ancient texts and provided  English language explanations of the mythological meanings behind the lunar constellations, also giving insights into how the 5-element system works with that, for the purposes of Feng Shui.

He shares that the Chinese use of the 28 lunar constellations gradually came into being and is probably at least 6,000 years old, going back to the time of Laozi, the founder of I Ching.  According to Walters' research, the Luopan, used as the house energies realignment "compass" in Feng Shui (the Chinese counterpart to Vastu), at one time had the 28 constellations on its outer rim.

But it was tens of thousands of years ago when Vega was the original pole star (the ancients knew about procession) so that, and the research of paleoastronomy in the Lascaux caves, tells me that mythology is as old as human history.  Storytelling, the work of the imagination combined with insight, is as old as we are.  Storytelling is how enlightened beings through the ages have shared their insights on an intellectual level.  The stars in the sky are their powerpoint presentation.

Learning to read poetry

Be more poetic about life and less philosophic. Allow poetry to enter in you and stop philosophizing. All philosophy is borrowed. Poetry need not be borrowed. Every child is born as a poet. Every child is a poet. To be a poet is natural, it is a gift of nature.
. . . . 
 This is where the poetry of religion becomes something beyond logic. For logic this is difficult. The logic will say either/or – and poetry says both/and. The logic always gives you a choice – either this or that. Either say the innermost being is empty or say it is full of being. It gives you alternatives. But the poetry of being says and/both – it is empty of something and full of something.

The Chinese Lunar Constellations came to represent the body parts of the four symbolic animals delineating four directions in the sky above and, from the view of mysticism, inside our head (inside our mind not only the brain).

Maya.  This is all mind.  All of it.  Mind out there and mind within us.  The ancients used poetry to explain it, so it could be understood on many levels.

Understanding the 4 Symbols and the 5 Elements

Derek Walters, in a workshop presentation to Feng Shui practitioners (link), explained that the colours of the 5 elements, and the sequence of the 5 classical elements in ancient times was based on the colour of the planets as observed by Chinese astronomers.  Jupiter stands for the green/azure element wood,  Mars for the red element fire,  Saturn for the yellow element earth, Venus for the black element metal, and Mercury for the white element water.  The elements revolve around "earth" so yellow goes in the middle.

Five elements, like the five tattwas in the Vedic philosophies, are the foundation for everything in the gross physical world as well as what is unmanifested.  In the Vedic system the five tattwas arise from the five chakras below the crown:  root chakra=earth, sacral chakra=water, navel chakra=fire, heart chakra=air, throat chakra=ether.  There is no one system neither in China or India that agrees absolutely on one classification system.  But that's just politics of semantics.  The truth is always going to be found in the inner experience of them.  The chakras are responsible for every area the soul deals with in the human experience.

And context is another thing.  It isn't always about "disagreement".  It's about what one is talking about - house construction?  divination?  calendars? meditation practice?  - context determines how the classical elements are categorized.

And then Truth has many layers of meaning.  Are we talking about the gross physical level?  astral active mind levels? the causal level?  or the transcendent?  In the Sanskrit language every word has other secret words contained within it.  With Chinese and Mayan pictograms there is something similar going on.  The English word "secret", from Latin secretus (adjective) means "separate, set apart," and from the verb secernere, from se- "apart" + cernere "sift."  Secret just means there are layers of meaning to separate and to sift through.  An ignorant person takes the literal layer and is satisfied with that.  An intellectual person goes farther and is satisfied with that.  A spiritual person looks the deepest and, with discrimination blossoming into wisdom, finds truth ultimately when the mind stops and the Divine can enter transforming consciousness.  This is my philosophy and my approach.

I am biased toward's Sri Vasudeva's view because he lives in an enlightened space, not only seeing things for what they truly are but seeing ALL the layers of meaning.  He teaches that we are multidimensional beings - we not only "see" through the layers but in engaging that "seeing" we can also be living in them - maybe not in fullness but at least at the periphery.  He teaches that the elements have to do with the function and consciousness of the associated chakra in the human experience.  For me, that is the most important one to know because everything else follows from that.

In Chinese astrology the primary four are represented as animals - Black Tortoise/Turtle/Warrior, White Tiger, Red Phoenix, Azure/Green Dragon.  They are the guardians of the four cardinal directions of the cosmos.

These are arranged around the celestial circle of the heavens (cosmological circle) with the Lunar Constellations, seven per animal, at the seven chakra points of each animal.  In my post about the cosmological circle I mention that the 28 points are created with four seven-pointed stars.  Sri Vasudeva teaches that the chakras are responsible for every area of life.  Every area of life is encapsulated in the astrological concept of the 12 houses.  The 12 houses are expressions of the solar and lunar aspects of the 6 chakras leaving out the central one that is the crown chakra (13 being an expression of 7).  And the 12 houses are divided into the four goals of life:  artha (wealth), dharma (duty to the Inner Guide), kama (pleasure), and moksha (liberation from the wheel of ignorance/Maya).   The iconography of these systems appear different but they are actually talking about the same thing.  What is in the cosmos arrises out of what is in us.

The 28 lunar constellations in the Chinese astrology are aligned to the head, neck, heart, stomach, tail etc... so their astronomical location locates them at these points to the four animals.  Their names often reflect this.  (In the Vedic system the nakshatras are linked to the 12 signs of the zodiac.)

When I assigned the GV points to these lunar constellations they are out of order relative to the symbolic animals.  The GV points are really a useful location indicator as they are like entry points pointing towards chakras inside the sushumna nadi.

Mantak Chia's Taoist Big Dipper model

Mantak Chia writes about the significance of the elements as markers of areas in our subtle "brain" anatomy, as directions in our - "North" "South" "East" "West" and "Central" having esoteric meaning related to the transmutation of subtle energy from jing to chi to shen.  The Big Dipper, because of its central location pointing to the two pole stars (due to procession), Vega and Polaris, represents in essence the crown chakra or our access to it through the brow chakra.  In his writings he reorients the four elements as the cosmos within us (see his images below):

The cosmos "above" us
corresponds to the cosmos within us (and the elements)
Sri Vasudeva teaches that there is a holographic principle at work in our universe.  We can clone an entire organism from a single cell.  We are sparks of the divine fire.  Whether it's electrons orbiting a nucleus or planets orbiting the sun, or subtle energy orbiting the sushumna - the process is holographic.  God took a great design and used it as His template for everything.  Some reduce it to mathematics, others to morality.  All paths lead to Rome.  When Carl Johan Calleman decoded the Mayan system, he discovered a template that he calls his "theory of everything".  My "theory of everything" is always evolving because I am a work in progress.  One of my joys is having a really reliable map and compass to discover the truth within me.  The nakshatras have taught me a lot about the choices I have made and that have been made on my behalf.  The more I know about them, the more I see the layers of illusion in the world around me.  It's a compliment to my spiritual practice.  

The Chinese Lunar Constellations as the 4 Emperor's Generals

The Twenty-Eight constellations and Four Animals are imagined in Chinese folklore as twenty-eight night guardians or generals to four emperors.  They are called Èr Shí Bā Xiù 二十八宿.  The word 宿 xiu/hsiu means one of the 28 constellations (星座 means "constellation"); xiu literally “lodge for the night”.   

Here are some beautiful and evocative paintings of the Chinese lunar constellations in their folklore form as Generals of the Four Emperors by an artist named Dai Dun Bang 戴敦邦    When I look at them and contemplate their corresponding nakshatra (by GV point) I intuitively feel how they are related.  Some don't make sense to me yet, while others pop out as obvious.  I will examine these in my posts about the individual GV points.   I am very inspired by this artwork in particular and grateful for his interpretations.

I have audaciously changed the traditional sequence of numbers from the Chinese astrology system to align them with the Governor Vessel points I am using as a basic template.  I am not so much interested in their meanings as acupuncture points as I am in the seven chakras and their relationship to enlightenment.  The acupuncture points are are like arrows on the surface of the skin pointing to something deeper inside.

The names of these 28 Generals or Governors to the Emperor correspond to the body parts of the Four Animals and allude to the astronomical stars and locations in the sky as well as to mythological legends about them.  All of that to me is poetry to deconstruct and reinterpret through the lens of enlightenment teachings and Vedic astrology.  Here I am more interested in the characteristics that are similar to the characteristics of the corresponding nakshatras and how both are talking about the same chakras or energy and consciousness processes.

An East-West astrologer, Malvin Artley has put together a useful compilation outlining some of the basic attributes associated with the 28 Chinese lunar constellations that he states was drawn from several sources, most notably The Complete Guide to Chinese Astrology, by Derek Walters, Richard Hinckley Allen’s Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, his own investigations and findings of participants in his Chinese astrology classes: (free downloadable pdf).  I have yet to dive into the tremendous lifetime research done by Derek Walters.  The meanings I ascribe to these constellations are a compilation of my own.  Just like the nakshatras, they didn't begin as 28 constellations but a lesser number that was added to and changed around.  My belief is that this older template of the 28 constellations was in place in the ancient world by 3,000 BC and lasted until the Dark Ages - but it wasn't the "original" one.  Derek Walters has found references as far back as 6,000 years ago in the I Ching (and probably older texts - I am not too familiar with his work).  That original one, if there was one, may never be found, since people have been joining the dots in the sky and counting moon phases since prehistoric times.  That's why I look to the seven chakras as the true original template for all mythologies.

 白虎 White Tiger constellations

GV27 參 Shen "Three stars / Ginseng" [Ashwini]
GV28 觜 Zi "Turtle beak (or pouting lips) / Mouth" [Bharani]

GV1 壁 Bi “Net” (A Hand-net or Rabbit-net).  [Krittika]

GV2 昴 Mao "Hairy head /The Constellation / Pelaides” [Rohini]
GV 3 胃Wei "Stomach" [Mrigasira]

GV4 婁 Lou "Bond /The Train of a Garment" [Ardra]
GV5 奎Kui "The Man Striding or the Striding Legs" [Punarvasu]

Black Turtle/Tortoise constellations

GV6 壁Bi "Wall or Partition" [Pushya]

GV7 室Shi "Encampment / A House / Room" [Ashlesha]
GV8 危Wei "Rooftop /Steep or Danger" [Magha]
GV9 虛 Xu "Emptiness / Void / False" [PurvaPhalguni]
GV10 女Nu "Girl / Woman / Female" [UttaraPhalguni]

GV11 牛Niu "Ox / Cow" [Hasta]
GV12 斗Dou "Dipper /A Ladle or Measure / Fight" [Chitra]

Azure Dragon constellations

GV13 箕 Ji "Winnowing-basket /A Sieve" [Swati]
GV14 尾 Wei "Tail" [Vishakha]

GV15 心 Xin "Heart" [Anuradha]
GV16 房 Fang "A Room or House" [Jyestha]

GV17 氐 Di “Root / Bottom / On the whole” [Mula]

GV18 亢 Kang "A Man's Neck / Excessive" [PurvaShadha]
GV19 角 Jiao “The Horn or Spike / Angle" [UttaraShada]

Red Phoenix constellations

GV20 軫 Zhen "The Cross-piece of a Chariot" [Abhijit]

GV21 翼 Yi "Wings or Flanks" [Shravana]
GV22 張 Zhang "Extended net / A Drawn Bow" [Dhanishta]
GV23 星 Xing  "Star" [Satabhisha]
GV24 柳 Liu "A Willow Branch / Willow" [PurvaBhadrapada] 
GV25 鬼 Gui "Ghost" [UttaraBhadrapada]

GV26 井Jing "Well or Pit" [Revati]


marlene lee said...

Sorry if I missed this..but did you mention about the 27 Nakshatras and 28 lunar mansions? Why they are not totally overlapping and how we can align it the best way possible? I love these cards. thank you so much for sharing.

Yvonne Keogh said...

I see you answered your own question in another post: "I see the answer here: *In Vimshottari we use the 27 nakshatras so in this philosophical system Abhijit is absorbed into GV19 as part of Capricorn". I love these images by artist Dai Dun Bang 戴敦邦 too.