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Bagua is a Chinese word which means “eight symbols” in direct translation. In the field of daoist cosmology, bagua is used to refer to the eight trigrams which embody reality’s fundamental principles as viewed through a series of eight concepts that are related to each other. The term trigram was coined for these concepts since each of them comes with a 3-line structure. Each of these lines that make up one trigram could either be “broken” or “unbroken” in representation of yin or yang.

These trigrams can be linked closely to the philosophy of taiji or “Supreme Ultimate, taijiquan and wu xing or the concept of the five elements. These trigrams have a relationship that can be arranged in two ways: Primordial or Manifested. The primordial arrangement is also known as “Fu Xi” bagua or “Earlier Heaven” while the Manifested is the “King Wen” Bagua or the “Later Heaven. These trigrams have corresponding representations in almost every field including anatomy, astrology, astronomy, familial relationships, geography and geomancy.  

One of the ancient Chinese divination texts, I Ching or Yi Jing (Pinyin) contains permutations of 64 paired trigrams. These trigrams are called “hexagrams” and each one comes with a philosophical commentary.

Bagua and its Roots

Bagua’s origins could probably be traced back to Zhou Dynasty’s King Wen.  In the beginning of this world, there was only Qian-gua, the heaven, and Kun-gua, the earth. The mating between the two resulted in all of the things present in this world. The six other guas are the daughters and sons of these two.

These trigrams are linked to wu xing and its five elements as applied in Traditional Chinese Medicine and by feng shui experts. These elements are identified as follows: earth, fire, metal, water and wood. The Fire and Water element match the trigrams for Fire (Li) and Water (Kan). Earth as an element matches two trigrams: Mountain (Gen) and Earth (Kun). Wood is identified with Thunder (Zhen) and Wind (Xun) trigram, a force that can be both calm and relentless given its ability to wear down and pierce stone. Meanwhile Metal is linked to Lake (Dui) and Heaven (Qian) trigram.