It just dawned upon me that despite being a blog on BaZi and Chinese metaphysics in general, I’ve not written anything on what is probably the most Googled thing about Chinese metaphysics, which is how exactly do you read a BaZi chart.
Before I start, I just wish to make it very clear that interpreting a BaZi chart is not easy. If you found your way here hoping a blog post will be able to teach you how to accurately decipher your chart and save you some money from engaging a practitioner, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. However, I’ll still encourage you to read on because this post is important if you’re thinking of getting your chart read at some point. Please stay and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the read!
This is going to be a rather long post, but if you’ve ever wondered what goes through my mind when I look at a chart, this post will explain the process. If you’re not interested in anything philosophical and just wish to read to get a BaZi consultation, feel free to get in touch. Otherwise, for self-learners, the link to my online school is at the end of the article. Whatever it is, I would really, really encourage you to finish going through what I have to share with you because it will answer some of the questions that bought you here in the first place.
A lot of the practitioners touch on the technicalities behind a BaZi chart and not the philosophy behind it. Getting the technicals right is a difficult task in itself and not many practitioners can get this right in the first place. Perhaps what’s causing this lack of proficiency is the appreciation for the philosophical aspect of this ancient art, which I am definitely an advocate for.
In my opinion, looking at BaZi from a philosophical angle helps humanize this art and makes it a lot easier for people to appreciate it, not just as a mere tool, but also the wisdom behind it. When you appreciate something, learning it is naturally easier, and getting good at it is an eventuality. This post won’t teach you how to fully decipher a chart per se, but I highly encourage you to finish reading it as it’ll add a new dimension to your learning and understanding of Chinese metaphysics.
What Is BaZi and Why Does It Work?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first.
Popularly known as the Four Pillars of Destiny, ‘BaZi’ means Eight Characters found in the Four Pillars, where each Pillar has a Heavenly Stem and Earthly Branch.
It’s introduced to most people as a fortune-telling tool which isn’t wrong. BaZi can ‘tell your fortune’ because of its ability to forecast one’s life, and it’s extremely easy for a seasoned practitioner to tell someone’s calibre and chances for success. I hesitate to call myself a fortune-teller because it feels like a superficial term for something that is the amalgamation of our ancestor’s wisdom which stretches back thousands of years.
BaZi, and any other method of ‘fortune-telling’, is only possible if one is able to measure time because reckoning time is required before we can observe patterns and cycles. Whenever you look at a BaZi chart, you’re actually looking at an ancient calendar. The knowledge behind how this ancient calendar was developed is what gave the Chinese sages the ability to forecast one’s life. BaZi’s system is based on the solar calendar with its 24 solar terms and the sexagenary cycle, a time-keeping system that is unique to the Chinese. It consists of 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Earthly Branches, both of which are individual systems of time-keeping, but were eventually brought together to develop a refined version which is more holistic and reliable form.
Measuring time is taken for granted because we are born into this world where clocks and GMT timezones already exist. Still, one must remember that there was a point in time where human civilization had no concept of how long a year, month, week or even day felt like. The concept of measuring time was only possible because of the cycle observable in the sky and the cosmos. A year was measured by the circling of the Big Dipper; a month was measured by moon cycle; a day was measured by earth’s rotation.
Studying BaZi is no different from studying nature’s laws and how it unfolds, and the way it unfolds follows a pattern that repeats itself. It is this belief that allowed the Chinese sages to develop methods of forecasting one’s life, and you will find that this is true for other forms of astrology from other civilizations. The work of Hindu sages allowed for Vedic astrology to develop, and Ptolemy’s work on astronomy gave birth to the Western astrology we know of today.
Understanding The Cosmic Trinity & It’s Role In BaZi
The Cosmic Trinity is known as san cai (三才) in Chinese, which refers to Heaven, Earth and Human. The Chinese sages believed that whatever is observable in Heaven will have a physical manifestation on earth. In other words, human life will parallel nature’s laws.
This is the reason why you’ll often hear someone’s chart being described according to what we can see in nature. For example, charts born during summer will need Water to adjust for its environment; Metal requiring Fire to forge it; or how Yin Wood needs the right amount of water, soil and sun to truly grow. Studying someone’s BaZi chart is akin to seeing his or her life unfold according to these laws that parallel nature. Someone with an unforged under Yang Metal chart will likely never be successful, and someone under Yin Wood with much Fire will never be able to grow.
Your natal chart is what you are born with and your foundation. It is a static state of being. Your “Luck Pillars” or Elemental phases are how things unfold. To bring back the above examples, your natal chart could already state that your Yang Metal chart is in a forged state, and what’s left to do is to make sure this forged state is maintained. If Yang Metal were to remain an unrefined ore, usually represented by an excessively strong Yang Metal Daymaster, we will then need the chart holder’s Elemental Phases to provide the required elements needed for forging.
Everything is nature has a state and an unfolding process, which is actually just another way describing the life and death cycle that all phenomena have to go through. Our charts show us where we are in this cycle, which is why our lives are so vastly different, with the high-quality charts thriving, and the low-quality charts withering.
This is the reason why people with good charts are always growing, whereas those with the bad charts will end up on a destructive spiral. These are all manifestations of nature’s laws.
The Superficial Way Of Interpreting A BaZi Chart
It’s safe to assume that for any layman, there’s always a difficulty in understanding what the chart is trying to communicate be it from the technical or philosophical perspective. To most people, charts are seen as “This year is good; this year is bad” or “This 10-year Luck Pillar” is good; this 10-year “Luck Pillar” is bad”. There’s nothing wrong with this per se and as long as the chart is broken down very logically by theory, you’ll be able to get an understanding of the key milestones you need to look out for. It may be a turning point in life, or it may be a downturn you might need to look out for. I think what I wish to point out here is this: The typical way people react towards a reading is that, during the good years, people expect their desires to be met, and during the bad years, people basically just live in fear and worry unnecessarily. It’s a very superficial and linear way of looking at things and it’s not the best use of metaphysics in my opinion.
I always tell my clients to see every single year and/or 10-year phase as interconnected. If you choose to see them as independent and separate, you’ll be missing out on a lot of valuable insights into your life, how it’s going to unfold and how you are developing as a person. Isn’t where we are today but a build-up of all the things we’ve been through and all the decisions we’ve made thus far? The Chinese classics don’t touch on this notion of your annual phases and 10-year phases being interconnected, but I reckon it’s because they assumed people would already be reading the charts this way and understand the philosophy it was built on which modern-day audiences don’t really pay attention to.
The notion of seeing every 10-year phase and annual phase as interconnected started to develop as the number of charts under my belt grew and as clients kindly share their personal stories with me. You start to notice patterns and how things are not what they seem on the surface. Perhaps one of the biggest observations I’ve had is that desires being met aren’t always a good thing. It may look good now and on the surface, but I’m sure many of us have made decisions we eventually regret. This is where the interconnection between phases come in.
I’ve always mentioned when conducting a BaZi analysis, looking at the 10-year phases (大运) is most important, because this the macro-environment you’re currently operating in and it plays an extremely critical role in how your life unfolds. If your 10-year phase is negative, there is no point having a positive annual phase – which is why I always say that annual zodiac forecasts are pure nonsense because it doesn’t take this simple yet fundamentally important step into account. There is a proper, structured way of analyzing a BaZi chart. Ignoring the 10-year phase and just looking at the annual phase is a complete deviation and misapplication of the theory and no legitimate practitioner should be doing this.
How Modern Media & Pseudo Practitioners Bastardized BaZi
The masses have misconstrued the right way of interpreting a BaZi chart no thanks to the ridiculous culture of annual zodiac forecasts and what was meant to be a good year could end up going to waste if the chart is interpreted wrongly. BaZi was never meant to be used this way and the reason why we have so many annual forecasts is only because the general public has no clue what’s going on, but yet people demand it for some reason. Everyone will have good phases and bad phases – you can’t escape this fact. The top-notch charts are those where, despite going through a bad phase, not much harm comes to them because their charts are structured very well and it’s the reason why we always say a balanced chart is a good one with the exception of some special cases. Why I always ask people to see every 10-year phase or annual phase as interconnected is because your future phases will be positive because your current one is negative and vice versa. Sounds weird? Read on and I’ll explain.
Nothing valuable in nature comes about without first going through some forging process, and even the beautiful things in nature will eventually breakdown and decay. The bad phases we go through are precisely a reflection of nature’s way of molding you. On the flip side, the good phases aren’t going to last forever as well and there will come a point where things start breaking down and decay. This cycle is just how reality is. The way we plot someone’s 10-year phases has a formula to it, and the Stem and Branches that appear aren’t random and the formula is basically a description of nature’s laws. I’m not sure about other practitioners, but whenever I look at a chart, it’s as though I’m seeing a product of nature and see the events that it has to go through and whether or not it comes out stronger and more beautiful, or it whether it withers away. There is a reason why you will always hear that good charts are “balanced” because a lot of the good things we see in nature are balanced as well.
BaZi’s fundamental building blocks are based on these laws. Take a few classic examples: When Earth and Water are balanced, it forms a lake and it is able to nourish life. If either one overpowers the other, nothing forms. Too much Earth and Water gets sucked dry; too much Water and Earth gets completely washed away. The same logic applies to other elements as well, like Wood and Fire, Wood and Metal, so on and so forth. These aren’t concepts developed by me – they are written in the Chinese classics and describe how our ancestors viewed the world and the laws governing and it all revolved around Yin Yang & The 5 Elements you often hear so much about.
Understanding The Hidden Meaning & Philosophy Behind A BaZi Chart
Your natal chart basically determines your foundation, but what’s important is how you develop from that foundation. Yes, some natal charts are better than others but that’s something out of our control, so there’s no point debating about it and there’s nothing a practitioner can do to change that contrary to what most people believe. Metaphysics is not a shortcut to your life’s problems. Yes, you can get insight from it, but the change still has to come from the chart-holder – not the practitioner. What I always get clients to focus on is the phases they go through, because it paints a picture of how the chart-holder will grow and develop from that foundation he or she was born into. I believe I mentioned this before: From the way your 10-year phases unfold, I can basically see whether someone who is going through a tough time will crumble or rise from the ashes; I can also see whether someone who is having a good time is starting to get complacent. Why I want people to see every phase as interconnected is because what you go through in the past will definitely have some form of impact in the present and future. Not that I’m trying to get people to get stuck in the past, but rather, if you fail to see how things are interlinked, you may find yourself at the mercy of fate someday without realizing it. This is something I personally experienced before.
I think I may be confusing some people – so perhaps let use a chart as an example:
I’ll briefly summarize the key points:
- This is a chart where the Yang Fire (丙火) Daymaster needs to be strengthened, so the first two 10-year phases are definitely considered negative since Water does not achieve that.
- The chart-holder eventually moves into a much better phase by his third 10-year phase which is his Wood phase – this is the period where his Fire Daymaster starts to strengthen.
Now, the key thing here to focus on this transition into his positive Wood phase which happened in 2012. A transition into a new 10-year phase always brings about huge change, and almost all my clients fail to appreciate just how impactful such a switch can be. A move into a positive phase is definitely worth celebrating; a move into a bad one should not be underestimated. How one’s life would turn out all depend on the 10-year phases and I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to encounter positive ones. Your 10-year “Luck Pillars” or Elemental Phases hold a lot more weight than the individual Annual Phases you go through.
When someone is about to move into a new 10-year phase, the signs of the shift into a different macro-environment would already start showing a few years prior to the transition year. Using the example above, the chart-holder would be feeling some changes since 2010 and 2011, and come 2012 the chart-holder realized his whole life has changed and he is suddenly now in a very good place. Certain events happened that allowed him to progress really well in life. It helps that 2010 and 2011 were positive years themselves as this transition happened, so depending on how your annual phases are like, what everyone experiences will be very different.
Let’s address how each phase is interlinked. It gets a bit philosophical here. As mentioned above, the way the chart and the 10-year phases is plotted has a formula and we all know that the Stems and Branches progress in a fixed order according to a formula – the sexagenary cycle basically. What I’m trying to get people to see is the is a meaning behind this ‘order’ and formula for plotting charts. The chart-holder above cannot move into a Wood phase without first going through a Water phase – yes, his natal chart is a bit more challenging, but that’s not the point here. The point here is that he has (a lot of emphasis on “has”) to go through a difficult phase first before the good ones can come. It’s simply nature’s law, just like the changing of the seasons and the endless cycle of birth and death.
All living things go through the same cycle, and our charts tell us which part of the cycle we are at and this decides what your chart quality and life trajectory are like. You can either be at a cycle where growth and development are ahead of you, or you could be in a cycle where death and decay are setting in.
Imagine a person that is always growing and improving, with one achievement after another, then imagine another person who is spiralling downwards uncontrollably. That is your cycle of life and death manifested through human life.
Coming back to the above example: I’ve spoken to the chart-holder quite a fair bit to understand what he went through, and what’s interesting to note here is that the chart-holder had a huge mindset change as he moved into his Wood phase. The difficulties he went through during his first two 10-year phases were required for him to have a ‘revelation’ before he moved into his positive phase – that’s just how life works – and with this, naturally, career and other aspects of his life started to go smoothly. I can relate to the impact such a transition in one’s chart can bring as I’ve been through one myself. The bottom line here is to never underestimate the impact of your 10-year Elemental Phases – it’s even more important than your natal chart.
I’ve argued many times that there’s no such thing as luck, because what we go through is nothing but what we put out there into our environment, and our 10-year “Luck Pillars” or phases is a reflection of our mindset and how we develop in relation to the environment we’re in. I’ve mentioned time and again that the word “luck” is not a good translation of the Chinese character 运 which we often use in metaphysics. “Luck” is when things happen out of nowhere and this is the exact opposite of what metaphysics is about – which is cause-and-effect. There is no such thing as “happen out of nowhere” in metaphysics.
I know some people might say that but some things are out of our control, like the place we work or circumstances we are in – that’s true, but I am still inclined to say that the decisions we make, which includes how we react to things or the meaning we derive from our experiences, got us to wherever we are today. Those who are in good environments or good companies deserve to get there because they focused on developing themselves and their mindset is right. They are like the trees that survived winter and are given a chance to bloom again during spring – this is the cycle of nature’s law and BaZi is precisely a description of these laws.
This same law that the universe works on can also be used to explain why some people have benefactors and why some others don’t. It’s not the first time I’ve written about the topic of why some people seem to have many benefactors. Our mentalities not only determine what kind of people we keep around us, but who we attract into our lives as well. If we were to find a parallel in nature, two species with a symbiotic relationship will thrive together. Within a single species, it’s those that display signs of helping each other and altruism that eventually survive and thrive. I took a module on evolution under the University Scholars Programme, so trust me when I say there are animal species out there doing what some of us humans don’t do. You will need to have something to give before someone offers it in return.
People born under these auspicious stars have benefactors because of the way they are – they can well-liked, respectful or even altruistic and it draws people to them. It’s not because they are ‘lucky’. The laws of nature are simply cause-and-effect.
Always remember that your 10-year phases are a reflection of both your mindset and the environment – they are interlinked as well and you cannot separate them. Yes, it is a chicken-and-egg situation one an say it’s hard to have a positive mindset while you’re in a tough environment, but such a debate is paralyzing and unproductive. We all know for a fact that our mindsets can change, and if it does, our environments can be changed too. Nothing in metaphysics is assessed independently as an end in itself and it is incorrect to see BaZi as a tool for predicting arbitrary events.
Low-Quality BaZi Charts: The Unfortunate Case Of People Who Will Never Grow
You might be asking, what if the person never, ever encounters a positive phase? There are definitely such cases:
Let’s admit it. Bad people exist, and this, of course, can be seen in someone’s chart. Someone’s natal chart can be bad and might be born with some character flaws, but the biggest pity is not a poor natal chart, but that the person doesn’t change or grow from it.
The above chart-holder will consistently encounter six (yes, six) negative 10-year phases since the start of his life. By the time he enters into a positive one, he would be 57. I know everyone probably can’t tell by looking at the chart, but the above chart-holder really has a huge character flaw, and sadly he fails to see how his mentality and character is sabotaging himself. The six consecutive negative 10-year phases tell a practitioner one thing: he’s simply not going to realize where he’s going wrong and he’s mentality is not going to change, and life is going to hit him so hard, by the time he realizes it, his best years will already be gone. He can only start truly laying a foundation for his life and start to enjoy it when he’s in his 50s. This is one of those charts where the chart-holder, instead of learning from his past mistake, sinks even deeper.
The interconnection here between past and present phase is that you can clearly tell the chart-holder just simply refuses to acknowledge what’s going wrong, so each 10-year phase becomes progressive worse than the previous one. The worst 10-year phase would be his 2020 甲寅 phase and he will hit rock bottom in 2025 and 2026 before realizing he needs to change, but even that will take time. Bear in mind that this person’s background is not as challenging as some of the people I’ve met and I’ve seen people with even more challenging backgrounds handle life with much more grace, and not surprisingly they are doing so much better because they are likeable and people naturally help them – their mindsets are so healthy that they adapt, grow and become really great, inspiring people.
What May Seem Good On The Surface May End Up Harming You
A lot of my clients come to me either right after they have moved into a new 10-year phase, or just when they are about to. It’s not surprising because one tends to encounter the most change when a 10-year phase transition is near. This can happen internally, within yourself as a person, or externally, such as your physical or work environment. People usually want to seek clarity during such periods.
I often get asked whether it’s a good time to make career changes and this is a good example to showcase how one’s 10-year phases and annual phases are interlinked. When someone’s about to enter into a negative 10-year phase, we can naturally assume that he or she will face career challenges and the pending career move is not going to be a positive one, but the confusing part comes when what’s presented to the chart-holder is positive. There can be several reasons for this and I’ve personally come across such cases in my consultations:
- The career move is made because another company is offering higher pay, but why is it not a good move then? In metaphysics, we don’t assess good or bad by using money. Yes, someone can get offered 2x more salary, but for 10x more work – would you think it’s a good move?
- At times, such moves also affect the career trajectory of the chart-holder. A switch in industries throws someone’s career way off course, and eventually, the chart-holder realizes that the opportunity cost is way higher than expected, especially when things don’t go well.
- A lot of things are out of your control, and if you’re not careful, you may end up in an environment which isn’t good for you and find yourself stuck there, all because of something that appears positive on the surface when it is actually not.
I think the best way I explain this whole interconnection between the different phases is that, as you go through the different life stages and events, you take something from it and move on to the next phase. There will also be instances where life just pushes you towards a new environment. Some people take the challenges and setbacks as lessons to become stronger, whereas some people continue to spiral downwards due to their toxic mindset. A lot of us don’t realize how some of the decisions we make end up changing our lives forever. If there’s one thing I learned from Chinese metaphysics, it’s to never look at things superficially. I always remind my clients to calm down before making a decision, because what may seem positive at first may actually be detrimental in the long run.
For the people who eventually encounter a positive phase: If you’ve had three consecutive negative 10-year phases, don’t expect your life to suddenly turn around instantly the moment you enter into a good phase. The process and unfolding will definitely take time just like every other natural phenomenon. The time taken and manifestations will vary from chart to chart depending on a few factors, such as how your natal chart is structured and whether the year of transition itself is positive for you.
The main takeaway I wish my readers to have is to appreciate how every 10-year phase and every single year is interconnected. Do not see BaZi as a tool that merely lets you find out when your desires will be met. There is a much deeper meaning to the Pillars and Chinese characters you see in your BaZi chart.
If you can see the story behind what the BaZi chart is telling you, it’ll definitely help you make better decisions. What your chart says about you and your life is so much more than what the media or commercialized pseudo-practitioners portray it. You are missing out so much by not going into the history and philosophy of this field. Your natal chart, 10-year phases, and annual phases come together to form a story of how your life unfolds – it’s a story of how you as a person, with your mindset (be it positive or negative), interact with your environment and how you grow from there. The transition into the different phases hold key insights and details on whether this transition is considered a good or bad one, what causes it to be good or bad, and what the eventual impact or meaning would be of all these transitions might mean.
Make your decisions carefully, and be very aware and honest with yourself if you are truly developing as a person because this is what ultimately separates a good chart from a bad chart. Charging forward recklessly in the name of pursuing your goals and dreams isn’t always the best way to do things. Going through a rough patch is not a bad thing either – it’s simply a process required before something of metaphorical beauty forms.
If you’re an enthusiast looking to pick up this skill, I’d welcome you to visit my online school here instead: Sean Chan’s School of Chinese Metaphysics. You’ll be able to learn BaZi in an interactive environment (and by interactive I am referring to chatting directly with me via an online channel hosted on Discord), at your own pace while being guided by me. I’ll be adding more content along the way. But please note that the available courses are not intended to turn you into a practitioner. It’s only for your interest and self-enrichement.