When some people started using swords and spears, those armed with sticks found their sticks ineffective; this is known as metal overcoming wood.
The mutual production of the five elements: Wood produces fire, fire produces earth, earth produces metal, metal produces water, and water produces wood.
Metal can be used to harm and damage wood.
This is just how the world is. People are constantly fighting, contending for power and profit, with one gang coming off the stage and another gang going onstage. In the affairs of the world, after being united for a while, people split up, and after being separated for awhile, they get back together again.
The Book of Changes has had a great influence on China, especially on Chinese government. Using the eight trigrams, it is possible to foretell and calculate anything at all. Not only the events of a person’s life, but even a country’s future can be foretold. For example, the Qing dynasty belonged to the element of water, so the word “Qing” has three dots of water in it. The Republic of China belonged to the wood element, and with the advent of the Communist Party, fire became the leading element, for wood produces fire. Fire in turn produces earth. In the future Buddhism will flourish in China, because fire will produce earth. Earth then produces metal, and metal produces water.
In terms of the kinds of warfare, modern warfare is dominated by water. Before this, war was under the influence of fire. In the most ancient times, what kind of wars were there? Wars under the influence of the element earth. That is to say, people hit with their fists or kicked with their feet, since they didn’t have anything else to hit each other with. When two armies faced each other in battle, they also fought by exchanging punches and kicks. These were called wars of earth, because people belong to the element earth; they are temporary combinations of the four elements. Since wood overcomes earth, wars of earth were followed by wars of wood. What is meant by wars of wood? People would attack each other armed with sticks and clubs. There were no swords or spears, so these wars were said to be dominated by the element wood. After wars had been dominated by wood for a time, they came under the influence of metal. When some people started using swords and spears, those armed with sticks found their sticks ineffective; this is known as metal overcoming wood. Later on, bullets, gunpowder, and cannons came to be used, as the element of fire was produced. At that time, people used cannons filled with gunpowder, and warfare came under the influence of fire. Now the age of warfare dominated by fire has also passed, and currently wars are dominated by water. Such weapons as the atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb belong to the water element, for they are created from the water molecule. In the future, wars will come under the dominion of earth once more, since earth overcomes water. Right now warfare is dominated by water, and in the future that which will repair the damage done by wars of water will be earth. Not every place will be involved in the warfare under the influence of water. Some places will escape the harm caused by the hydrogen bomb and atomic bomb, and the living beings in those places will stay alive. In general, however, it will be the element of water which will destroy the world.
The mutual destruction of the five elements: Fire destroys metal, metal destroys wood, Wood destroys earth, earth destroys water,
Water is very devastating. When there is a great amount of water, there is no way for earth to overcome it. Although the different countries have made an agreement to prohibit the setting off of the atomic bomb, that’s just a verbal statement; when it comes time to explode, it will explode all the same. They are just trying to “plug their ears and steal a bell"—fool themselves! Who can really control the situation? One day someone might go crazy, and in a split second, there will be an explosion. What can you do about it? Which country is able to stop such a person? For example, we had the League of Nations in the past, but what use was it? China was invaded by Japan, but they just sat there and watched, not making any move; they appeared to exist, but in reality they were already dead. Now we have the United Nations, but isn’t the world still such a big mess? Can it really take care of things? No. This is just how the world is. The evil karma that everyone has created is all crowded together, and there’s bound to be an explosion. Once we understand this principle, we’ll realize that this is just how the world is. People are constantly fighting, contending for power and profit, with one gang coming off the stage and another gang going onstage. Thus it is said, “In the affairs of the world, after being united for a while, people split up, and after being separated for a while, they get back together again.”
The Nature of Medicinal Herbs and the Five Elements
Human beings have human natures, asuras have asura natures, animals have animal natures, hungry ghosts have the nature of hungry ghosts, hell-beings have the nature of hell-beings, and medicinal herbs have the nature of medicinal herbs. The “nature” of something refers to its inherent disposition or essential quality.
The natures of medicinal herbs are also mutually productive and destructive. If you want to understand the natures of medicinal herbs, you must first understand the natures of the five elements. The Chinese theory of the natures of the five elements is wonderful beyond words. There is nothing that is not included within the natures of the five elements. The natures of the five elements are a systematic organization of everything in the Dharma Realm. The Dharma Realm is constituted from the elements of metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Therefore, if you understand the mutual production and destruction of the five elements—metal, wood, water, fire, and earth—then you will have a better understanding of all other principles. If you don’t understand the principle of the mutual production and destruction of the five elements, then it will not be easy for you to understand other principles.
What is meant by mutual production? The five elements—metal, wood, water, fire, and earth—give rise to one another. For example, take wood. The wood nature appears firm and hard, but it can produce fire. When you hold a match to a piece of wood, it lights right up; that’s known as wood producing fire. Fire is very hot. What can it produce? It can produce earth. When a fire burns out, there are only ashes left, and ashes belong to earth. There is a lot of earth (dirt and soil) on the ground. What can earth produce? “The earth can produce the myriad things. The myriad things are born from the earth.” All kinds of things are born and produced from the soil of the earth. The earth can produce the myriad things, and in particular, it can produce metal. Metals are formed in the earth. What can metal produce? Metal can generate water. When you set a piece of metal somewhere, it will collect moisture and become damp. This illustrates the principle that metal can produce water. When fire is used to heat metal, metal can also turn into liquid. This is also the principle that metal produces water. Water is something everyone is familiar with. What can it produce? Water can produce wood. You can see that when wood is still in the form of a living tree, it must have water to stay alive. If there is no water, it will wither and die and be of no use. This is known as “production in accord.” This is the dharma of production in accord of metal, wood, water, fire, and earth.
There is also mutual destruction. After mutual production, there is mutual destruction, which is mutual killing, the causing of death. Destruction also means harming, causing harm to something so that it will die. Mutual destruction really occurs next in line; that is, in the cycle of production, each element destroys the element that is two away from it. For example, wood produces fire, fire produces earth, and earth produces metal, so metal is generated. Metal destroys wood, which is two elements down the line. Metal produces water, and water destroys fire because water can be used to put out a fire. Metal can be used to harm and damage wood. For instance, if there is a tree, you can chop it down with an ax. This is a case of metal destroying wood. What then does wood destroy? Wood destroys earth. You can take a stick and poke a hole in the mud with it, and that’s an instance of harming the earth.
Why does wood destroy earth? There is a sense of mutual resentment involved. Metal destroys wood, and wood then destroys earth. Wood destroys the mother of metal, which is just earth. The wood element says to earth, “The son you produced came to destroy me, so I’m going to kill you, his mother.” So wood destroys earth. This is called “turning back and destroying.” Following the cycle, there is mutual production. Going in reverse, there is mutual destruction. Wood destroys earth, and earth then destroys water. When there is little water, earth will certainly be able to overcome water. When there is a lot of water, then even earth cannot overcome water. Because of its great quantity, water will win out. If there is only a little water and you throw dirt in it, the water will disappear. That’s how earth overcomes water. Water overcomes fire. If there is a fire somewhere, you can put it out with a little water. However, if the fire is very large, then you won’t be able to extinguish it with a small amount of water. In every case, if one element is in great quantity, it will be victorious. Fire destroys metal. It is able to overcome metal. Wood can produce fire, and fire then destroys metal. Fire helps wood. Fire overcomes metal, and metal overcomes wood. So it’s all a cycle. Since they are in a cycle, the elements become mutally opposed.
To be continued
If there is a fire somewhere, you can put it out with a little water.