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Understanding the 8 Trigrams: The role of the Ba Gua in Feng Shui

The Eight Trigrams are used to represent the principles of existence for the human condition. This article provides information essential to everyone interested in Feng Shui as the Trigrams form the foundation of all things.

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Each Trigram consists of three lines, with each line either broken or unbroken to represent the concept of dualism (yin or yang). The tripartite structure led to the eight symbols which lead then to the 64 Hexagrams used in the I-Ching and some advanced Feng Shui methods such as Xuan Kong Da Gua.

Where Do the Trigrams come from?

Everything began with a single entity the Wu Ji, which became the duality Yin and Yang – the Tai Ji. Tai is a word modifier that enhances another word and means ‘extreme’ or ‘excessive’. Ji means ‘to the limits’; ‘to the extreme’; ‘to the maximum’ or ‘to the summit’. Therefore the word Tai Ji means ‘to the extreme limits.

“The Tao begot one, One begot two, Two begot three, And
three begot the ten thousand things”

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – chapter 42

In terms of Feng Shui usage, the relationship between the Trigrams is depicted in two main arrangements, the Early Heaven Bagua and the Later Heaven Bagua essential to many Feng Shui theories including 8 Mansions and Flying Stars.

The Early Heaven arrangement models a perfect world where everything yin and yang are in balance. On the other hand, the Later Heaven arrangement shows seasonal influence and tells about the cycle of life, the movement of time, and the constant evolution of humanity.

When reading the Trigrams, the key thing to keep in mind is how the lines are set, you have to read them from the bottom up. The bottom line is Line 1, the middle line is Line 2, while the top line is Line 3. Here are the 8 Trigrams with some representations and associations for your notes –

The meaning of the Eight Trigrams

1. Qian Trigram is made of up three solid yang lines that represent Heaven, light, and warmth.

It represents the male in the family structure, or can be the oldest person or main breadwinner in Feng Shui. When using the Early Heaven Bagua arrangement, Qian is the South; and the Northwest in the Later Heaven Bagua. In Flying Stars Feng Shui theory, it's the number 6 and Yang Metal in the Five Elements. It also represents the large intestine in acupuncture.

2. The Dui Trigram has a broken line on top with two yang lines below.

It can represent the mouth, teeth, smiling and speaking. In family relationships, Lake is the Youngest Daughter or youngest female in a household. In the Early Heaven Bagua it represents Southwest, and the West in Later Heaven Bagua. Dui is also Yin Metal in the Five Elements, and number 7 in Feng Shui Flying Stars. And in acupuncture, it's the lungs and chest.

3. The solid lines at the top and bottom of the Li Trigram represent movement and activity

while the middle broken line represents quietness and solitude. The Li trigram represents our' ability to differentiate between internal and external emotions, facts and influences. Li in Feng Shui manifests itself in the eyes and one's vision. It is Fire Element, so in acupuncture it controls the heart, small intestine, and blood flow. In families, Li represent the middle daughter. In the Early Heaven Bagua, Li is the East; and South in Later Heaven Bagua. It is the number 9 in the Feng Shui Flying Stars.

4. The Chen/Zhen (Thunder) trigram is the eldest son in family relationships.

The two Yin lines represent two arms extending outward from the Yang line indicating action and movement - Thunder is the strong beginning that can implement lasting change. It is Yang Wood Element, so in acupuncture it controls the liver. In the Early Heaven Bagua Chen is Northeast, and East in the Later Heaven Bagua. It is the number 3 in the Feng Shui Flying Stars.

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5. Xun Trigram represents the movement of air pushing things towards the purest direction.

Its arrangement involves two unbroken Yang lines representing the sky, and a Yin line symbolizing quiet Chi at the ground. There is a great difference in pressure between the Yang and Yin creating Wind. In family relationships, Xun is the Eldest Daughter. It embodies thighs, hips, and liver in the Chinese medical world. In the Early Heaven Bagua Xun is Southwest; and Southeast in the Later Heaven Bagua. In the Five Elements, it embodies Wood and the number 4 in the Feng Shui theory of Flying Stars.

6. Kan Water trigram has two Yin lines above and below one Yang line, and so it represents the Middle Son.

In acupuncture it represents the kidneys and bladder, and embodies the ears and hearing. In the Early Heaven Bagua Kan is the West; and North in the Later Heaven Bagua. It is number 1 in the flying stars of Feng Shui theory.

7. Gen Trigram is standstill, solid and rooted in the earth towering towards Heaven.

The trigram line arrangement forms a mountainous shape of two Yin lines with the active Yang sky on top. Two Yin and one Yang, this trigram represents the Youngest Son being nurtured. It embodies the influence of reproductive organs, stomach and spleen. Gen trigram also manifests its power through small bones, hands, and fingers in acupuncture. In the Early Heaven Bagua Gen signifies Northwest; the Later Heaven Bagua is Northeast; as well as the number 8 in Flying Stars Feng Shui.

8. Kun Earth trigram consists of three Yin lines representing the polar opposite of Qian’s three active Yang lines.

Where there was movement, action and light; now there is stillness, receptivity and darkness. Kun represents the body of life and the place where the soul rests, and so represents the Mother or oldest female in a building in Feng Shui. In acupuncture, it symbolizes reproductive organs, spleen, and stomach. In the Early Heaven Bagua Kun signifies North; and the Southwest in the Later Heaven Bagua. It is number 2 in the Flying Stars theory.

The Beginning and the End

Qian Heaven and Kun Earth are the peak representations of yin and yang in Chinese cosmology, between these two Trigrams, everything in the world is created.


For further reading, here are some websites, books,  services or courses. If you know of any resources that should be in this list, leave a comment below –

  1. A more in-depth explanation of the BaGua’s role in various schools of Feng Shui by Master Derelle Ball.
  2. How the 8 Trigrams apply to Tai Chi.
  3. A nice introduction to the Trigrams usage in the I-Ching’s 64 Hexagrams.

Trigrams of the I Ching is an intense and fascinating look at one of the greatest archetypes of all time – the Trigrams or Ba Gua of the Chinese Book of Changes. I Ching symbolism comes alive in these profound and explanations of how fundamental I Ching symbols work together and what they mean. Dr. McDonald draws on his forty years of experience with I Ching symbolism in this amazingly insightful exploration of the most basic questions in I Ching studies, “Does the symbolism of the I Ching actually form a coherent archetypal system? Each schema of elemental archetype and symbol from the ancient world finds its place within the broad expanse of I Ching and yet also relates to the modern world, as we know it today. in Dr. McDonald’s detailed and lucid explanations. Each chapter of this book is a model for thorough and thoughtful I Ching interpretation on every level.

By Michael McDonald Phd.

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Dean French

With over two decades of practical Feng Shui experience, Dean French is known for his down-to-earth attitude, perceptive observational skills, and his direct and honest communication. Amongst his clients, he has a reputation as an accomplished consultant that has grown through perseverance, professional diligence, conscientious integrity, and the outstanding transformative life shifts they receive.

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