What are Li-tien (Heaven of Truth), Qi-tien
(Heaven of Spirit) and Xiang-tien (Heaven of Matter)?
There are many ways to classify Heaven. Buddhism partitions
Heaven into three major regions: Heaven of Desire, Heaven of Image,
and Heaven of Non-Image. It further subdivides these three regions into
twenty-eight sub-regions, depending on their pureness. Heaven of
Desire has six sub-regions, Heaven of Image has eighteen, and Heaven
of Non-Image has four. Taoism partitions Heaven into thirty-six sections
because there are three-hundred and sixty degrees in a circle. Taoism
also classifies Heaven into seven levels, which correspond to the seven
levels of one’s practice, and is similar to that of Christianity and Islam.
Heaven is also commonly classified into twelve levels. Tao Te Ching
states “One gives rise to Two, Two gives rise to Three. Three gives
rise to everything.” Thus, it is sufficient to partition Heaven into
I Ching describes the mysticism of the creation of Heaven and Earth
with three characteristics: first, the Non-Change, which is
Wu-ji Li-tien, second, the Change, which is Tai-ji Qi-tien,
and lastly, the Interaction, which is Huang-ji Xiang-tien.
These three Heavens are described as follows:
Xiang-tien: Everything that has matter, shape, and/or form
belongs to this space, including all items that can be observed
with the human eyes. Planets, earth, mountains, rivers, humans,
animals, plants, and minerals, whether having life or not, all
exist within this space. It is the material world and the three
Qi-tien: This space consists of the gaps between matters, also
commonly known as the “space” or “Heaven.” The gaps between
matters cannot be seen with the human eyes. However, it can be
felt with other sensory organs. For example, our feelings and
consciousness exist within this space.
Inside this space, the light and pure Qi belongs to yang and the
heavy and non-pure belongs to yin. Yang and Yin confront each
other. This is also called qian and kun. Thus, I Ching states
“Qian is Heaven and kun Earth.” When we say “Heaven,
Earth, and all matters,” “Heaven” here actually implies Qi-tien.
Without this space, Earth will be without support; mankind cannot
live; the sun, the moon, stars, and planets would collapse; and all
matters and life cannot exist. The function of this Heaven is to
control the growth and decline of yin and yang so that their transitions
are continuous and smooth. For example, the flow of the four seasons is
smooth and continuous. This Heaven also governs the beginning and end
of all matters. Heaven and Hell, which are created by the good and evil
of human minds, exist in this space. It is the spiritual world. It is
sometimes referred to as the space with more than three dimensions.
Li-tien: This is the void. It has no form nor shape, no sound nor scent.
It is an infinite spiritual energy. It is the space of pure souls. It is
absolutely empty and still. It is so immense that It comprises
everything. It is so divine that Its existence can only be recognized
through supernatural inspiration. It is so tiny that It can be anywhere.
It can create and cultivate all lives and matters. It cannot be observed
with any scientific means nor can It be detected by any human senses.
It has no beginning or end. It always exists and is always divine.
It is the origin of both the material world and spiritual world, the
Creator of all matters and lives. When the material world and
spiritual world are present, It too is present. When the material
world and spiritual world do not exist, It is still present. The
Buddhist Sutra saying “no beginning, no end, not polluted,
not purified, cannot be increased, and cannot be decreased”
refers to the essence of Li-tien. It is the Void, yet mysteriously
exists. It is what the saying “No image and image are the same.
No physical existence and physical existence are the same.”
It is the
In conclusion, Li-tien is the essence of the Void, Qi-tien is the
yin and yang of Tai-ji, and Xiang-tien is the material world. In
the genesis, Li-tien created Qi-tien, which in turn created
Xiang-tien. In the destruction cycle, Xiang-tien will collapse
first, followed by Qi-tien. Li-tien will always exist. It is just
like a person who is dying of natural cause will first lose all his
senses, then his breath. However, his soul will never die; instead,
it becomes entrapped in the cycle of birth, death and rebirth and
will be reborn into another body. Therefore, in order to break away
from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, one must receive
Tien-Tao conveyed by the Enlightened Teacher with Tien-Ming
(Heavenly Decree) and practise Tao.
Confucius said, “One who awakes to Tao in the morning will
not have any regret even if he dies in the same night.” This
clearly states the importance of transcending the cycle of birth,
death and rebirth and return to Li-tien.