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Onmyodo: The Way of Yin and Yang in Japan?

 
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Sima Qian
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2008 6:45 am    Post subject: Onmyodo: The Way of Yin and Yang in Japan? Reply with quote
I'm sure that everyone here has at least encountered the term Onmyodo or Onmyoji and the name "Abe no Seimei" associated with both whether it be in a book, movie, or anime (Otogi Zoshi/Shonen Onmyoji anyone? Razz )

But what is Onmyodo exactly? Is it simply Chinese Daoism in a Japanese wrapper?

Why did the onmyoji become so important during Nara and Heian periods? Why did their influnce drop like a falling rock afterward?

And why is it that only in 2006 have the restrictions of the practice and study of onmyodo in Japan been finally lifted?
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2008 1:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Well, according to Charles J Dunn (Everyday Life in Traditional Japan) the onmyoushi numbered "several tens of thousands in the Tokugawa period" and wielded considerable power - in astrology , horoscopes, dates, directions and so on.

But I know very little about the early periods (apart from what's in the Tale of Genji. And of course the Onmyoji movie which was great Laughing )
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2008 4:52 pm    Post subject: Re: Onmyodo: The Way of Yin and Yang in Japan? Reply with quote
Sima Qian wrote:
And why is it that only in 2006 have the restrictions of the practice and study of onmyodo in Japan been finally lifted?


Do you have a reference for that?
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2008 11:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I didn't know there was any restriction about practicing onmyôdô.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2008 4:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Wikipedia - so all bets ae off if this is truly accurate. Wink

Quote:
Until the middle of 19th century, when onmyōdō was prohibited as superstition, it was under control of the imperial government, and later its courtiers, the Tsuchimikado family. The restrictions have been lifted, and as of 2006 anyone may study onmyōdō.
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 06, 2008 4:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
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And why is it that only in 2006 have the restrictions of the practice and study of onmyodo in Japan been finally lifted?

Japanese wikipedia doesn't mention that.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 03, 2008 4:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Well as i've been reading more and more about scientific research in early Japan, I've been (unsurprisingly) bumping into a lot of references about the onmyoji.

Which now leads me to the inevitable question of - is there a good english language monograph about the subject? I always seem to find bits and pieces in books about the religious or political environment of ancient Japan, but I've yet to find anything that addresses the matter directly.

Part of the problem i'm having is how to classify these folk - they aren't exactly the "hermit living on a mountain" that comes to mind when one think about the Chinese context of Daoism.

Their astrological lore and belief in YinYang seems to be mixed in with Sanskrit style chants (Borrowed from Tendai? Shingon) with invocations of both Tantric Buddhist and Shinto deities.

And well, that's as far as i've gotten.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 03, 2008 6:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
What are you looking for? Are you looking for astrological accounts? If you are up for French there is a great book about "Kataimi et Katatagae". Then there is another work I recall on this history of Japanese Astronomy we have--I'd have to find the title.

There is not much on 'Onmyodo' in English that I have found that isn't basically religious. In fact, I've gone through many religious texts just to try to understand some of the concepts that are brought up. I have found some interesting things in Japanese, but that isn't what you're looking for.

Again, specific questions that you have? Maybe that can help find works addressing your specific concerns.

-Josh
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 03, 2008 7:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Josh - thanks for your help. Very Happy

I'm pretty much covered on the Japanese Astronomy front, as i'm sitting pretty on a pile of books about the history of Japanese science.

As for the questions currently bouncing around in my head:

1.) What is the content of an Onmyoji's knowledge? It can't be just strictly astrological, so what other duties did they perform?

2.) How much of Onmyodo is Chinese Daoism? How influential were Esoteric Buddhism and Shintoism on its practices?

Random Test: If i was a court noble, i would go see an Onmyoji for _________, a Buddhist monk for _______, and a Shinto priest for ________.

3.) What are the common tools an onmyoji utilizes?

and the kicker:

4.) Did they have any canonical texts? Its hard to imagine a Confucian scholar who hasn't read the Analects, a Buddhist monk who has not memorized the Heart Sutra, or a Catholic Theologian who doesn't know his Bible.

So - what was on the Onmyoji reading list? Wink


and finally - When did the Onmyoji as a social class and their arts/knowledge base as social practice fall out of favor? What prompted it?
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 03, 2008 2:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Sima Qian wrote:
1.) What is the content of an Onmyoji's knowledge? It can't be just strictly astrological, so what other duties did they perform?


Onmyoji originally seem to originate as the masters of the Chinese 'sciences' as they had come together in the Han synthesis. I would argue that they were expected to be familiar with the theories of yin-yang, the yijing, fengshui, the zodiac, etc. Chinese thought, especially within the realm of wuxing, the 5 elements, tended to see the external world as a mirror of the internal.

This was eventually divided up into two major branches of 'science', which I would loosely call divination (the determination of auspicious or inauspicious signs, directions, etc.) and calendrical sciences. In China the latter was viewed as more important and the former was de-emphasized within the court. In Japan the opposite occurred, with the science of divination becoming paramount and the calendrical sciences taking a back seat, as it were.

This is emphasized in the story of how Kamo no Tadayuki, then the hereditary head of the Onmyo Ryo, took on the gifted pupil, Abe no Seimei. He then split the office into the sciences of divination, which post he gave to Abe no Seimei, and calendrical sciences, which he gave to his son, Kamo no Yasunori, who was not as talented.

Quote:

2.) How much of Onmyodo is Chinese Daoism? How influential were Esoteric Buddhism and Shintoism on its practices?


Being an Onmyoji was seen more as a scientist than a religionist. However, they seem to have incorporated many Daoist concepts coming over from mainland China. Many of the stories about Abe no Seimei often put him into direct conflict with esoteric Buddhists (over whom he usually prevails). Other stories show him on friendly terms with members of the clergy. Regardless of how it was seen in society, the two were intertwined, and much of the cosmology as the Onmyoji saw it appears to come from Buddhism as well.

I've got to run... I'll finish this post at a later date.

Quote:

Random Test: If i was a court noble, i would go see an Onmyoji for _________, a Buddhist monk for _______, and a Shinto priest for ________.

3.) What are the common tools an onmyoji utilizes?

and the kicker:

4.) Did they have any canonical texts? Its hard to imagine a Confucian scholar who hasn't read the Analects, a Buddhist monk who has not memorized the Heart Sutra, or a Catholic Theologian who doesn't know his Bible.

So - what was on the Onmyoji reading list? Wink


and finally - When did the Onmyoji as a social class and their arts/knowledge base as social practice fall out of favor? What prompted it?
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 03, 2008 2:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
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I'm pretty much covered on the Japanese Astronomy front, as i'm sitting pretty on a pile of books about the history of Japanese science.

Will you list the books?
I'm interested.
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 03, 2008 4:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
(Starting from where I was...)
Quote:

2.) How much of Onmyodo is Chinese Daoism? How influential were Esoteric Buddhism and Shintoism on its practices?


Being an Onmyoji was seen more as a scientist than a religionist. However, they seem to have incorporated many Daoist concepts coming over from mainland China. Many of the stories about Abe no Seimei often put him into direct conflict with esoteric Buddhists (over whom he usually prevails). Other stories show him on friendly terms with members of the clergy. Regardless of how it was seen in society, the two were intertwined, and much of the cosmology as the Onmyoji saw it appears to come from Buddhism as well.

Much of Omyodo seems to have been subsumed into Shinto practices. You can still get the calendars of lucky days at shrines, and they tend to use more of the 5 elements and similar theories. Japanese Buddhism may have been influenced by it, but I don't believe to the same extent.

Quote:

Random Test: If i was a court noble, i would go see an Onmyoji for _________, a Buddhist monk for _______, and a Shinto priest for ________.


Well, an onmyoji would probably tell you things like auspicious and inauspicious days for an activity (especially traveling). In the early days there are records of provincial omyoji gathering tales of omens to bring to the court. If the stories of Seimei are at all based on fact, they appear to have been called on in dire straits to help heal the sick or drive out demons.

Those last would also be within the realm of a Buddhist monk. The monk would also intone the sutras and help people to create merit for themselves and others through various acts (e.g. you could donate money for the construction of a temple, or make a donation to have the sutras copied down many times).

I find it harder to draw the line between Shinto and Onmyodo. I can't recall when 'Shinto' actually began to be used, but the indigenous practices of Japanese religion within the court appear to have merged. In the provinces I imagine that the local priests were responsible for more local tradition, but I don't have much information.

One of the most talked about practices of onmyodo appears to be 'kata-imi' and 'kata-tagae'. The first is directional taboos--there was a belief that certain spirits walked the earth in patterns. So, for example, if Konjin were in the north, it would be an inauspicious direction as you were likely to draw his attention (which, much as with the Greek pantheon, was rarely a good thing). Konjin, Ten'ichi, Daishogun, etc. all milled about in certain set patterns, but the complexities were such that most people didn't keep track of it, and relied on onmyoji to lay out what directions were auspicious or inauspicious on any given day.

Kata-tagae would be the practice of changing direction. So, let's say I need to go from A to B, but B is to the north and Konjin is there. Well, I could travel Northwest to a third location, C, and then continue on to B (now in the Northeast). As long as 'C' was an actual destination, this was considered acceptable. Thus many of the more amorous exploits of the court nobles appear to have been done under the cover of kata-tagae: "Oh, I just have to go to the East today to avoid an auspicious direction--Look, it is Lady Sanjo's residence! I guess I'll just have to stay the night..."
Quote:
3.) What are the common tools an onmyoji utilizes?


One often sees a makeshift altar used with onmyodo ritual. I believe it has 5 or 7 legs, and usually has stands with the 'lightning bolt' paper hanging off of it.

You had calendars, and apparently an observatory, though I don't know what it consisted of. Much of the job of the omnyoji appears to have been going over texts of various omens and determining auspicious or inauspicious omens and then offering them up to the court or individual courtiers.

Quote:
4.) Did they have any canonical texts? Its hard to imagine a Confucian scholar who hasn't read the Analects, a Buddhist monk who has not memorized the Heart Sutra, or a Catholic Theologian who doesn't know his Bible.

So - what was on the Onmyoji reading list? Wink


Grrr... here's where I need my library, but I'll give it a start: The Yijing (I-Ching) would be one of the main foundations. I believe the Classics of Earth and Seas was another. I'm forgetting off the top of my head the various Yellow Emperor texts. There were also various esoteric Buddhist texts that they needed to know. Hopefully I'll be able to find a way to dredge them up.

Quote:
and finally - When did the Onmyoji as a social class and their arts/knowledge base as social practice fall out of favor? What prompted it?


With the move of power away from the court and into the hands of the provincial warlords, I would say. Even then, lucky and unlucky directions still pop up. Into the 18th century, a Dutch author writes about the continuation of chants and rituals for protection when a servant has to go in an unlucky direction. There are Edo court cases regarding the Tsuchimikado family sueing others for 'unlicensed' divination (I believe it was a conflict between the Tsuchimikado family, which claimed descent from Abe no Seimei, who had lived on Tsuchimikado avenue, and the wandering itinerants such as yamabushi, but I'd have to re-read it to be sure).

Please realize that I don't have my sources handy, for which I apologize. This has been something of a study for my wife and I, though I don't guarantee that I have all the facts right above as I'm quickly referencing and condensing as best I can this morning.

-Josh
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 03, 2008 4:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Here are a few of the currently inaccessible books others might want to look into:

"Kata-imi et Kata-tagae" by Bernard Frank, republished in 1998.

Shan Hai Jing: "The Classic of Mountains and Seas", tr. Anne Birrell, published by Penguin Classics

"A History of Japanese Astronomy: Chinese Background and Western Impact", by Shigeru Nakayama

"Engi Shiki Procedures of the Engi Era" by Felicia Book (In two volumes--books I-V and VI-X; I don't think they translated any of the rest)


Also, I believe the Kojiki and Nihongi both have references, especially towards the later chapters. And of course there is the literature of the day, which is always good for first hand accounts.

-Josh
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 9:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
shikisoku wrote:
Quote:
I'm pretty much covered on the Japanese Astronomy front, as i'm sitting pretty on a pile of books about the history of Japanese science.

Will you list the books?
I'm interested.


Well, off the top of my head:

Building a modern Japan : science, technology, and medicine in the Meiji era and beyond by Morris Low

The Japanese and Western science / Masao Watanabe ; translated by Otto Theodor Benfey

Characteristics of scientific development in Japan by Shigeru Nakayama.

A History of Japanese Astronomy: Chinese Background and Western Impact by Shigeru Nakayama

Historical development of science and technology in Japan, edited by Hideomi Tuge.


There's a lot more - a whole lot more especially, but you may notice that there is a historical hole - namely when it comes to Pre/Proto Science prior to the advent of modern science in Japan via Rangaku studies.
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 9:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Quote:
This was eventually divided up into two major branches of 'science', which I would loosely call divination (the determination of auspicious or inauspicious signs, directions, etc.) and calendrical sciences. In China the latter was viewed as more important and the former was de-emphasized within the court. In Japan the opposite occurred, with the science of divination becoming paramount and the calendrical sciences taking a back seat, as it were.


I can confirm that, as the calendrical science was important to maintain the legitimacy of the Chinese emperor. That and i do remember reading somewhere about a Chinese traveler who visited Japan remarking on that same "flip-flop" of emphasis.

Quote:
Being an Onmyoji was seen more as a scientist than a religionist. However, they seem to have incorporated many Daoist concepts coming over from mainland China. Many of the stories about Abe no Seimei often put him into direct conflict with esoteric Buddhists (over whom he usually prevails). Other stories show him on friendly terms with members of the clergy. Regardless of how it was seen in society, the two were intertwined, and much of the cosmology as the Onmyoji saw it appears to come from Buddhism as well.


Well that is defiantely intriguing. Daoists in China have always had a mutable social identity. The village priest, the court official, and the hairy unkept mountain hermit could all be defined adequately as "Daoists."

The Buddhist influence (and interfighting) is unsurprising, much of the same thing happened during the T'ang/Song - with Daoist practitioners organizing the Daozang into "Three Grottoes" to mirror the Buddhist canon.

I'm surprised that they took the Buddhist cosmology as a whole, usually amongst the Daoist sects in China there was a tendency to draw off of older indigenous traditions or to claim new revelations from "higher heavens."


Quote:
Kata-tagae would be the practice of changing direction.... Thus many of the more amorous exploits of the court nobles appear to have been done under the cover of kata-tagae
.

Tale of Genji anyone? Wink

Quote:
You had calendars, and apparently an observatory, though I don't know what it consisted of. Much of the job of the omnyoji appears to have been going over texts of various omens and determining auspicious or inauspicious omens and then offering them up to the court or individual courtiers.


Josh, perhaps you would know a certain item in question that i've only seen roughly translated as "divination board." It seemed like a wooden board with a number of co-centric circles, a smaller one inside another smaller one, that one manipulated in order to do divinations.

Ever hear/seen a description of such a thing.

Quote:
Grrr... here's where I need my library, but I'll give it a start: The Yijing (I-Ching) would be one of the main foundations. I believe the Classics of Earth and Seas was another. I'm forgetting off the top of my head the various Yellow Emperor texts. There were also various esoteric Buddhist texts that they needed to know. Hopefully I'll be able to find a way to dredge them up.


Oh if you can, please post the list. I'm curious as to what was successfully ported over from China and what the Japanese had to come up with on their own. I find it hard to imagine that someone would ship the whole Daozang to Japan, but one never knows!
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 04, 2008 4:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Sima Qian wrote:
Well that is defiantely intriguing. Daoists in China have always had a mutable social identity. The village priest, the court official, and the hairy unkept mountain hermit could all be defined adequately as "Daoists."


The 'onmyoji' in Japan was, at least in the way I'm using it, an official post of the Court. It was stratified within the court ranking system, etc. (The Onmyo-ryo was the Bureau (or office, or department) of Divination, usually with a titular head). BTW, although there were 'onmyoji' in the official court system, not all practitioners necessarily fitted into these categories neatly. I believe that Abe no Seimei achieved a rank and position that was actually outside the realm of the Court Diviners. I'd need to look at my books to be certain.

In addition, they were found in the provinces as well. In the early 12th century, for example, an onmyoji named Kenren from Tachikawa in Musashi province teamed up with a Shingon monk named Ninkan and formed a new lineage of Buddhism (Tachikawa-ryu).

Quote:
I'm surprised that they took the Buddhist cosmology as a whole, usually amongst the Daoist sects in China there was a tendency to draw off of older indigenous traditions or to claim new revelations from "higher heavens."


As I said, I don't have my books, but remember that Daoist thought was coming to Japan as a foreign religion and philosophy, and the Japanese were adopting it as such. They didn't have the same cultural background as China, for whom Daoism (at least after the Han synergy) was essentially an outgrowth and amalgamation of the indigenous beliefs and traditions similar to Japanese Shinto.

Quote:
Josh, perhaps you would know a certain item in question that i've only seen roughly translated as "divination board." It seemed like a wooden board with a number of co-centric circles, a smaller one inside another smaller one, that one manipulated in order to do divinations.

Ever hear/seen a description of such a thing.


I have an attempt to replicate an early Chinese one, and I've thought of trying to make one of the wooden ones. I'm blanking on the name, but essentially they are a type of compass. The flat square represents the earth, and the circular portion, usually with the big dipper in the center, represents the sky.

An early mistranslation of this artifact produced a 'replica' that I have which has a magnetic spoon that points the way south. I do not believe this was actually how they worked, though. Rather, I think someone found the bottom half of one and the description that the 'spoon' (dipper) pointed the way.

The more authoritative descriptions are of a domed upper half that is mobile. Inscribed on each are various Daoist compass points: The 8 directions, their associated 12 zodiac symbols, the 10 major and minor elemental brothers, and symbols of the yijing, for starters. It is essentially a feng shui tool, meant to aid in aligning directional and elemental factors to determine auspicious and inauspicious geolocations or perhaps even temporal. Unfortunately, I know what it looks like but its use has eluded me, somewhat.

Quote:
Oh if you can, please post the list. I'm curious as to what was successfully ported over from China and what the Japanese had to come up with on their own. I find it hard to imagine that someone would ship the whole Daozang to Japan, but one never knows!


You would be surprised. They had hundreds of Chinese documents imported over--it was one of the chief reasons for early embassies to China. "The Rooftiles of Tempyo", while fictional, give a wonderful look into this trade. "Across Perilous Seas" might also be an interesting read.

One of my sources does have a list of the 5 most important texts in the Onmyoji arsenal, but as I mentioned--it is still in shipping or storage and I don't know which box it went into.

-Josh
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PostPosted: Fri May 02, 2008 9:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Quote:
One of my sources does have a list of the 5 most important texts in the Onmyoji arsenal, but as I mentioned--it is still in shipping or storage and I don't know which box it went into.


Hmm, would anyone happen to recognize these 2 texts?

Senji Ryakketsu (占事略决, "the summary to judgements of divinations") by Abe no Seimei

and

Kinugyokutoshŭ (金烏玉兎集/三国相伝陰陽輨轄簠簋内伝金烏玉兎集, "the collection book of the moon and the jade rabbit")
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PostPosted: Fri May 02, 2008 10:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Kin'u Gyokuto Shû would rather mean "Collection of the Golden Raven (the Sun)and the Jade Rabbit (the Moon)"
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PostPosted: Sun May 11, 2008 3:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
do you have a copy of the text Senji Ryakketsu?? i want to have one but i cant find any.. T_T
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PostPosted: Wed May 14, 2008 4:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
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do you have a copy of the text Senji Ryakketsu?? i want to have one but i cant find any.. T_T


Not exactly one of those things you find on your neighborhood library's bookshelf eh? Wink

Heck, i've been trying to get my hands on the more esoteric volumes of the Daozang - suffice it to say I know your troubles. Just Kidding
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PostPosted: Thu May 15, 2008 11:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
You can buy 占事略决 from Amazon Japan.
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PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2008 5:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
My understanding is that the I Ching: The Book of Changes was considered one of the five Confucian Classics that samurai were supposed to study.

Here is the site that lists the five Chinese Classics

http://www.sacred-texts.com/cfu/index.htm#fivecla

The site describes the Book Of Changes thusly: "The Book of Changes. Dating to approximately 3000 B.C.E., this famous oracular book is one of the oldest sacred texts in the world."

Having read the Book of Changes many times and having studied it, this is a book of divination that uses Yin and Yang as a prime concept. This is connected to Chinese Taoism. I have the old Wilhelm/Baynes translation that also includes some commentary by Confucius and other classical Chinese scholars.

This book can be purchased from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/I-Ching-Book-Changes/dp/069109750X

I highly recommend it.
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PostPosted: Sun May 25, 2008 4:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Just found the following of potential interest:

"The Illustrated Yellow Emperor's Canon of Medicine"

If anyone is familiar with the "Zuangzi Speaks!" and similar books, this is in the same vein--it explains the Huangdi Neijing (黃帝內經) in comic book form. It is very understandable, and seems to cover the bases for much of the medicine in a fun, but not inaccurate way. The problems I see arise with the lack of attribution--some times it is unclear to me what comes from the original and what are the authors' sidebars. I believe it is indicated by the numbered phrases being taken from the original text.

It is English and simplified Chinese in parallel. I'm assuming the Chinese text has been modernized, but I can't read Chinese well enough to know. Some really interesting stuff. E.g.:

(From Page 20):
1. Yang qi in the human body is like the sun. When the sun is abnormal, nothing can exist.

2. When yang qi in a human body is in an abnormal state, the person will die young.

3. So the movement of heaven is centered around the sun's brightness.

4. The yang qi on the human body should move upward and outward to protect the body.

I'm currently reading through this as well as the "Classics of Mountains and Seas", which is interesting for its attempt at an early scientific approach to botany, zoology, etc. in order to catalogue the various creatures in all the four directions.

-Josh
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Sima Qian
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PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2008 7:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
I know the series your speaking about - ASIAPAC books right? They do a good job of bringing to life many of the old chinese classics.

Quote:
I'm currently reading through this as well as the "Classics of Mountains and Seas", which is interesting for its attempt at an early scientific approach to botany, zoology, etc. in order to catalogue the various creatures in all the four directions.


!!!!

I think i just got a moment of clarity.

"Shan Hai Jing" (Shan = Mountain, Hai = Sea, Jing = Classic) does that translate into Sengaikyou in Japanese?

I was scatching my head when i saw the romanji for this book (on a list of Onmyodo resources apparently) - that clears that one up.

Although a thought occurs to me, what would an Onmyoji need of an index of creatures found in China of all places?
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JLBadgley
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PostPosted: Tue May 27, 2008 2:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Because it tells you not only about the creatures, but what they are omens and portents of. For example, a particular type of fish, when it appears, is a sign that drought is coming.

It also tells you about offerings to make to gods of the various mountains, and describes the workings of the world (as they new it). When the outer is an expression of the inner, it is important to study the structure of the outside world to understand the internal, etc.

In addition, the later books (after Books 1-5, which appear to form the original core), there is a lot of mythical material, which would have fit into Onmyodo very well.

-Josh
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