At the heart of symbolism

Ming Tang, temple of Light

(Detailed page)


The square and the cross

The vertices of four squares can be laid on the four corners of the Temple or central room. These squares generate two figures called gammadia made of squares with equal branches, the form of which evokes the Greek letter gamma (Γ).

  1. The squared gammadionThe crossed gammadionWithin first pattern, the four squares draw the squared basis of the building and, more particularly, the four angle stones that must be cut at right angles.
  2. Within second pattern, the four squares fashion a cross representing the four paths that start from the centre and go back to it. This figure also evokes the primeval drawing of the ideogram “hing” of the number of elements or states of the material world in the Chinese tradition (see the five elements). This tradition counts four peripheral elements (Fire at south, Water at north, Wood at east and Metal at west) and a central one (Earth). The fifth element corresponds to the projection of the last stone of the construction, the keystone laid at the summit of the building.

In Christian symbolism, the keystone represents Christ and the angle stones the four Evangelists. The two figures as a whole describe Christ in the middle of the four animals of Ezekiel's vision 1. If the Gospels constitute the foundation of Church, the angle stone put in first place, the cornerstone, symbolizes its founder, Saint Peter.

The two paths

When the vertices of the four squares are laid on the median points of opposed sides, the figures draw two vertical and horizontal paths equivalent to the vertical and horizontal lines of the letters I and H respectively.

  1. The vertical pathThe horizontal path The vertical path represents the communication channel between north (yin) and south (yang), Water and Fire, the terrestrial depths and the celestial heights. The Emperor occupying a central position between the celestial and terrestrial influences represents the true mediator between Heaven and Earth.
  2. The horizontal path depicts the communication channel between west (yin) and east (yang), Metal and Wood, the world under and the world above, obscurity and light. “Destroying obscurity (tsing), restoring light (ming)” constitutes one of the mottos of certain Chinese corporations.

The horizontal path is yin comparatively to the vertical path yang.

The verticality of the letter I refers to the World Axis, the ascending and descending paths between Heaven and Earth 2.

The horizontal line of the letter H links up two opposite states that cannot exist one without the other; they are called to become complimentary and unite alongside the vertical axis. This line represents a rung of the ladder linking Earth and Heaven and destined to be climbed.

The circumambulation

When the summits of the four squares draw an inner square within the outline of the Temple, the obtained figures represent the branches of swastikas rotating around the centre.

First clockwise swastikaFirst counter clockwise swastika
Second clockwise swastikaSecond counter clockwise swastika

The swastika symbolizes the passage from the centre to the periphery and conversely. It consequently describes the circumambulation of the Emperor that edicts the terrestrial orders in application of the celestial principles. The two rotation directions of the swastika correspond to the two directions of the journey of the Emperor that starts from the centre and returns to it. In fact, the Emperor goes halfway back to the centre and, therefore, reverses the rotation direction of the journey.

The swastika constitutes an emblem of Christ, the good Word of which is spread into the four Gospels that, in return, must be reassembled to restore the Verb in its totality.


  • René Guénon:
  • “The Great Triad”, South Asia Books Publisher;
  • Particularly, chapter 16 on the Ming Tang precisely.
  • “Symbols of Sacred Science”, Sophia Perennis Publisher 2004;
  • Notably, chapter 45 entitled “al-arkân” on the gammadia.
  • Marcel Granet:
  • “The Chinese Thought”, Albin Michel Publisher, 1988.

1 back All the same, in the Islamic tradition, the terrestrial representation where the Prophet is situated in the middle of the first four caliphs constitutes a reflection of the celestial representation where the chief of Heaven militia, er-rûh, stands in the middle of the four archangels: Jibrîl, Rufaîl, Mikaîl and Isrâfil.

2 back The letter i is equivalent to iod, tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and first letter of the Tetragrammaton or divine name (י ה ו ה).