Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches

Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches

Shenmi SONG

Indigenous China used a concept of benming (“personal destiny 本命) to predict and pray for a person’s life starting from the third century. The indigenous Chinese benming had no relationship to astral concepts before the seventh century. With the spread of Indian astrology in China, the benming concept changed its contents and forms during the period between the seventh and thirteenth century, that is, the Tang and Song dynasties in China, leading to a new, fused astral benming system. The new benming system coexisted with the indigenous benming system at that time.

Two Chinese Buddhist scriptures both record the debate on how to choose the Benming Day which occurred in Japanese court in the tenth century. The debate reflected that there were two benming systems in China during Tang and Song dynasties. This projects showed that the indigenous Chinese benming system took the birth year as its content and used three kinds of forms: the Earthly Branches, the Sexagenary Circle, and the Chinese zodiac animals. With the fusion of Indian astrology and indigenous Chinese culture, a new fused astral benming system formed. Besides the birth year, the fused astral benming system contained a person's birth day and birth month. It used the luminaries, lunar mansions, the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and the Big Dipper as its forms. With different contents and forms, the two benming systems coexisted and interacted with each other.