Wednesday, October 21. 2009
In January I am starting an online course about Heluo Lishu 河洛理數, a form of astrology which takes the bazi 八字 from your Chinese horoscope as a starting point and turns them into hexagrams of the Yijing which tell about your personality and your life. Although the basic material is ready I am still investigating several facets of this system, looking for information about its background and observing how others use and interpret it. This leads to interesting and instructive findings - especially about how you shouldn't do it.
Heluo Lishu is not entirely unknown in the West, the system was introduced here by Wallace Andrew Sherrill & Wen-kuang Chu in their popular paperback The Astrology of I Ching. This book is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because to the best of their knowledge they presented us with calculations which enable you to calculate your bazi, and from there to calculate your birth hexagrams. It is also a curse because they deliberately made changes in the initial principles of the system, which makes room for major differences in the outcome. More worse is that many consider it as a bible for Heluo Lishu, and whatever Sherrill and Chu (S&C) tell is the Truth which should not be questioned. When I sent an email to my mailing list to announce the online course, and mentioned that we were going to correct some errors that S&C made, I got a reply from someone who said that "who the hell I was to criticize such learned scholars who obviously knew what they were doing". I guess this guy was using S&C's book for about 30 years and didn't like the fact that his calculations might sometimes be wrong. He is one of those persons who know how they are doing it, but don't have a clue what they are doing.
So what do you do when you perform the calculations in S&C's book? Their procedure is pretty straightforward and logical. For this 'astrology' you need to know your bazi, the 4 sets of ganzhi 干支 combinations that belong to your year, month, day and hour of birth. But the time of birth that you work with is not the clock time that the midwife or doctor jotted down when you did your first scream on this planet. Like most forms of Chinese astrology you work with true local time, also called 'sundial time': the time that is decided by the position of the sun, as seen from the place where you were born. Clock time is an artificial time using time zones, a (not always) convenient agreement between people to make life, and especially business life, easier. So the procedure in S&C's book is
Good procedure, producing good results (mostly but not always, more about that later). But only if you follow S&C's directions carefully and make no errors. If you make an error at point 1, the outcome will probably be wrong.
While doing my research about the Heluo Lishu system I did a search on internet to see how others cope with the intricacies of this system. I found Chinese and English software programs that do the math for you, but there are also websites who (try to) do the calculations. All Western software and websites seem to be based on the book by S&C. That does not necessarily give major problems - as long as you stick to their procedures. One of the websites which does the calculations with S&C's book as a guideline is www.hall-of-man.com. The website looks nice, and the author really tried to do a good job - he gives a lot of information about S&C's book, but he also tries to give his own twist to the material. That, unfortunately, might be the reason why he misreads S&C's instructions at a crucial point.
I wanted to check how this website was performing, so I entered the birth data of a friend of mine: 4 April 1983, time 2:34:00 am in a place on 4° East. Daylight Saving Time (DST) was in use at that time. The outcome for true local time that the site gave me was 1:51:00 am (when I enter the same data now it produces 1:59:00 as outcome; I don't know why, it might have something to do with browser caching but this 8 minutes difference does not alter my story). I thought, this is odd, the birth time minus DST is 1:34:00 am; the birth place is West of the 15° time meridian, which means that the true local time can never be later than the clock time minus daylight saving time! Of course I addressed this matter to the author of the website - I am never too lazy to point at somebody else's mistakes. This resulted in an e-mail discussion which got nastier with each reply, and brilliantly showed what stubbornness mixed with narrow-mindedness can do.
Summing up the replies of the website's author (S.A.), leaving away the nastiness: the author maintains that S&C do not use the standard time meridian (the meridian that marks the clock time) of the birth place, but the standard time meridian closest to that location. In the case of the 4° location that means you use the 0° meridian (this is the GMT meridian, which is nearest to it) instead of the 15° meridian that is appointed to it.
Now that is silly. Why would I want to do that? Why should I use a meridian which has nothing to do with the birth time or location? I asked S.A. questions about this but they were hardly answered; instead I got a long exposé about S&C inventing a 'virtual Peking' and that this 'virtual Peking' was the result given by his website, which, according to S.A., was completely in accordance with S&C's calculations. And if I wasn't convinced I should check the examples that S&C give in their book and enter them on his website, and I would see that the outcome that his website gives is exactly the same as what S&C calculated.
Sounds plausible. If his website produces the same results as S&C, then the calculations from the website must be correct. But not in this case. The locations in the examples by S&C are all pretty close to their standard time meridian, which means that the closest standard time meridian (which S.A. uses) is the same as the appointed standard time meridian (which is the one you should use). That is why with these examples the website gives the same outcome as S&C, even though the calculations are based on wrong premises. Of course things get different when you have a location that is not close to its standard time meridian.
So I gave S.A. an example: the place Kashi in the far West of Tibet. [Correction 22-10-2009: Kashi is not located in Tibet, but in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region]. This region is part of China, and throughout China the time is fixed at GMT+8, which is based on the 120° meridian (this is near Beijing, far away from Kashi). In other words, the standard time meridian for Kashi is 120°. The location of Kashi is 76°E. I gave 15:00 as a birth time. Using the calculations from S&C’s book it goes like this:
• The difference between the place of birth and the standard time meridian is 44°.
(This isn't really true local time, but it is according to S&C's calculations - minus an odd table which adds a few minutes, which is unnecessary - so let's accept that for now.)
S.A.'s website comes up with a local time of 15:03, a difference of almost 3 hours. I asked S.A., how is it possible that a place which lies 44° West of its standard time meridian ends up with a local time which is almost the same as the clock time? He didn't answer my question, but again pointed to the three examples that S&C give in their book. Okay, I said, if you are so fond of their examples, I'll give you another one, the one on p. 130 in An Anthology of I Ching:
Male. Born 1.21 a.m. CDT Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 30 June 1975. Longitude 97°31`W. Standard Meridian = 90°W.
S.A. said that I don't know the material that I am dealing with, and that I am the one who is reading S&C's book all wrong. Well, of course that is possible. But the calculations for determining true local time can be found on many places, so you have the chance to get a second opinion if you're in doubt. I pointed S.A. to the site from The Order of Time, which calculates the true local time, what they call 'solar time', only their calculations are more precise because they also take into account the Equation of Time, which is essential if you want to get to the right answer. Without the Equation of Time your answer can be off more than 15 minutes.
I showed him that the OoT site gives the same answer as mine, if you put the Equation of Time aside. Of course, S.A. said, what that site is calculating, and what I also was doing, was something completely different from what S&C meant by 'true local time'. Their definition of 'true local time' is different from how the rest of the world understands it, says S.A.
So now S&C have changed the definition of 'true local time'. Hmmmm, okay. It still is odd, though. The computer program by Norbert Kröger, which uses the calculations as given by S&C, produces the same result as the OoT website and my calculations. We are all three wrong?
Yes, replied S.A. It seems he is the only one that understands S&C's calculations correctly.
In his last response S.A. says he is "past this 'project'" and also has "become bored by your upstart attitude and self-righteousness". And, he says, "I spent many years looking too closely at the hexagrams, expecting very detailed matches. That approach was wrong. So what is an hour, given this?" In other words, suddenly he does not find a precise calculation necessary any more. He writes, "Don't get stuck with trivialities like you are right now. Who cares about theory in these matters? This is not ordinary science, this is science of the soul! (...) I study sidereal astrology, which I find a far superior system for investigation individual characteristics". Which, of course, says a lot.
What is the point of telling this messy story? Well, it shows how far you can get astray if you rely on one source and one source only. One of my slogans is 'one source is no source at all'. You always have to check your findings, and if you don't have the opportunity to do that, you have to be extremely careful to jump to conclusions.
For the upcoming course I am checking several Chinese sources about the subject of Heluo Lishu, trying to get to the bottom of the matter. Why do the tiangan 天干 have their appointed numbers, numbers which are different from other forms of Chinese astrology? Why says the original manuscript that you have to subtract 25 for the Heavenly number, and 30 for the Earthly number? Why is the controlling line called the yuantang 元堂, and what is meant by yuanqi 元氣? Why is Heluo Lishu attributed to Chen Tuan 陳摶 and Shao Yong 邵雍? What does this imply? Why is the same material found in the 河洛真數, a book with almost the same title and also attributed to Shao Yong? Some questions are easily answered, some are not. But I would never rely on one source, and especially not on S&C's book. I am sure they honestly did their best to reproduce Heluo Lishu as faithful as possible, but the calculations differ too much from the right calculations for the bazi and the hexagrams. They don't apply the Equation of Time; you never calculate two sets of bazi just because you are born close to the start or end of a month; the year does not start with the winter solstice; they skipped the month hexagrams for no apparent reason; their calculations for the daily hexagrams seem to be their own invention, and they could have told a lot more about how a hexagram can be interpreted.
Does that mean that you should not buy their book, or if you have it, throw it away? No. You can use it, but try to use other sources for the calculations as well. And if these other sources give results that differ from your own findings, then alarm bells should go off: what is the matter here? And as you see, from there things can get really interesting. Tiresome, maybe, but nevertheless interesting.
[Update 22-10-2009]: Read S.A.'s take on the whole matter, in which he repeats his mistake. By the way, in none of my mails I have said that table 8a in S&C's book is unnecessary, I have always clearly mentioned table 8b. S.A. is misreading - again.
S.A. conveniently provides a scan from S&C's book, which helps me to illustrate S.A.'s misreading (red underlining is mine, click to enlarge):
As you see S&C do not talk about the 'closest time meridian', but about the 'standard time meridian' - the time meridian that is appointed to the location and marks the clock time. Yet in the case of Kashi S.A. says that I have to "locate the meridian closest to 76°E, in this case the 75° meridian, and add a mere four minutes since the birthplace was ever so little to the east of this particular "virtual" Peking". But 75° is not the standard time meridian that S&C want you to use. The standard time meridian for Kashi is 120°E: Beijing time.
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Hi Harmen, An online course? Where can we read about this? (And what language will it be in?)
The course will first be given in Dutch, but next year I will translate it to English. I will let you know when it starts.