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Wu Xing and Tibetan Buddhist/Other Elemental Theories

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Last time I had entered the world of Qi Gong and TCM, I eventually strayed from this path for something as simple as how they categorize the elemental forces in this world.

 

For me, I felt like I had some sort of mission to "remind the world of wind" because we lived in a world that was full of "metal" energy, money, structure, etc.

 

Now I've come to realize that Wood in Wu Xing is about the same as Air, so I've made my peace with that.

 

Still, can Metal be equated to Aryuvedic/Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of Void/Sky/Ether?

 

 

I'm all about synthesizing systems for their core truths, but I just haven't been able to work the parallels of these two Elemental Systems. Are they talking about completely different level of energetics?

 

There's definite link between Chakras and Meridians, so I'm hoping the Elements can be linked as well.

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I'm far from an expert, but a few thoughts I've had on the same topic:

 

- Energy exists on a vibratory spectrum. Just like any spectrum, you can divide it up in a lot of different ways. A color wheel is a good example - you can divide it into any number of colors and you can never specify one exact point where one color becomes another. Likewise, you can never specify where one element becomes another, or exactly how many elements there are.

 

- I often see the Wu Xing described as processes of change (and specifically as processes taking place in the internal Chi of the body), as opposed to the 4+1 (Hermetic/Hindu/Buddhist) elemental setup, where they tend to be described as more universal energies which serve as building blocks. I haven't experimented enough to comment, but it could be that the Wu Xing are more equatable to the Western concept of the 4 Ethers, or the Tattwas of the Hindus (specifically, in being subsets - Chi is strongly related to air, so possibly Fire could be seen as Fire of Air, Wood as Wood of Air, etc. in the manner of the Hindu Tattwa system).

 

- In hermetic cosmology at least (my knowledge of Buddhism is weaker than my knowledge of Hinduism, which isn't so great either - so if my talk earlier about the Tattwas was gibberish, someone feel free to let me know), Air is considered to be a dualistic element, created from the interaction of fire and water (yang/electric and yin/magnetic) and so serving as a medium of communication between them and possessing properties of both (the expansiveness of fire with the magnetism of water, which is what makes it the ideal medium of communication). I've found that you can roughly equate the properties ascribed to metal in the Wu Xing to the watery/yin/magnetic properties of Air in the Hermetic cosmology, and the properties ascribed to Wood in the Wu Xing to the fiery/yang/electric qualities of Air in the Hermetic cosmology.

 

- There seems to be a strong correlation between the 4 element system and the trigrams on the Bagua symbol, depending on which version of the symbol you're looking at.

 

- Going back to what I was saying about spectrums, these are just imperfect attempts to describe aspects of reality which are difficult to quantify. Don't stress over it. I wouldn't worry about whether they "contradict" as long as you maintain internal consistency (if given a practice which uses the Wu Xing setup, don't try and adapt it to the 4+1 setup, or vice versa - I know people who practice them alongside each other with no problem).

 

 

Still, can Metal be equated to Aryuvedic/Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of Void/Sky/Ether?

 

On this I would say a definite no. The properties ascribed to Metal in the Wu Xing aren't anything like those described to Void/Aither in the 4+1 setup, and attempting to do so would be twisting both systems to try and make them fit together, which can cause all sorts of problems.

Edited by Aeran
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i think the more important factor when it comes to elements is what you can directly percieve. not in abstractions or ideas about the world, but direct perception by placing your mind upon objects. to that end there doesn't need to be a theoretical resolution, just a cultivation of ones mind to experience and differentiate the different energies in our materiality. that experiential knowing is the core truth, if you ask me.

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I've been asking myself the question of the how elementals sets from different cultures correspond to each other.

 

I've came the (hypothetical) conclusion that the common point seemed to be something about 4 elements plus 1 other that is the space, the void, the "place", in which the other manifest.

 

In Chinese term Soil is the ground for all others to manifest in. How does this correspond to the western Earth/Wind/Water/Fire+Ether ? Water and Fire are the same. As noted above Air matches more closely Wood. If Soil, as the manifestation locus, is not the western Earth, it leaves us with Metal = (Western) Earth.

 

In the Japanese system we have Earth/Wind/Fire/Water+Void which is closer to the western set. And the Hindo-Tibetan Earth/Wind/Fire/Water/Space (Akasha) is too.

 

The only difficulty is why Earth = Metal. Maybe because Earth in this context correspond to what is hard, solid. In Aristotelician terms Earth is cold and dry, which fits Metal. When Metal generates Water by condensation it is because of its coldness and of it's inability to be wet, which leaves the water to grow outside, instead of being absorbed inside it.

 

In the Bundaheshn we have an iranian set of elements that is Earth/Wind/Water/Fire+Light.

 

Another problem. Why in Empedocles (the first attestation elements in the West) is there only four elements ? Where is the fifth that exists in other traditions and will later appear in Aristotle ? You have to see that in this poem, there is no mention of "elements" (stocheia) they are refered as "roots" (rhyzomata). Now Hesiod says that Earth and Sea have their roots close to Tartarus. And we know from the study of greek cosmology that Heaven too joins with Earth and the Underword in the paradoxical place that is Tartarus. So it's possible that in that context Tartarus is the name of 5th element.

 

There seems to be a strong correlation between the 4 element system and the trigrams on the Bagua symbol, depending on which version of the symbol you're looking at.

 

Studying Empedoles, I've came to think that maybe there was a connections to the trigrams. Zeus(Heaven)-Hera(Earth) could correspond to pre-Heaven Qian-Kun, and Aidoneus(Fire)-Nestis(Water) to post-Heaven Li-Kan.

 

We need a bit of numbers.

 

As Aidoneus is Hades and Nestis his wife Persephone the two couples are... actual couples. If you look at the numerical values of the many name he uses for the "roots" you see that Heaven/Air is 9, Earth 1, Water three, Fire 12 which reduces to (1+2) three.

 

http://web.eecs.utk.edu/~mclennan/BA/AGEDE/Isopsephia.html

 

9+1 = 10 => 1 So Zeus and Hera are mysteriously One, like Qian/Kun in pre-Heaven state

Both Aidoneus

 

Both Aidoneus and Nestis are 3, they are hard to discriminate, they are mixed (?) which would point to a similarity to Li/Kan, as they are kind of a mixed result, Qiand/Kun having exchanged their middle lines.

Edited by Aithrobates
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I'm all about synthesizing systems for their core truths, but I just haven't been able to work the parallels of these two Elemental Systems. Are they talking about completely different level of energetics?

 

Yes.  Similarities are the outcome of common derivation and then later cross-pollination... but developmentally there came a fork in the road and Indo-European systems took (or rather were pushed onto) one path and Chinese taoist, another.  So parallels may be found but most of them are either superficial or outright deceptive.  I would choose a system and stick with it, and notice what others do in this respect but not try to, as a Chinese proverb goes, "travel in two boats simultaneously by putting one leg in each."  

 

The version of wuxing where Earth is placed in the middle is the outcome of cross-pollination.  The original taoist wuxing is circular.  Non-hierarchical. 

 

However, sometimes it is useful to "flatten the world," so to speak, by using the square plan with four directions and Earth in the middle -- it is used for some simplified (compared to the rocket science of taoism, internal alchemy, but not all that simple by itself of course) tasks -- e.g. for some basic-level feng shui.  I wouldn't use this for any neigong or neijia -- or for any healing work.  But in any situation where you are dealing with a flat square surface which you want to be a stand-off for the world, a model, you can use this system.  It can be applied to the arrangement of an indoors taoist altar, e.g., but if you practice more "arcane" aspects with an outdoor one, you will definitely engage the circular model.  And then you can remove the altar and just use the world -- but phases of qi and their transformations must become as obvious as their visible manifestations in "elements" before one is likely to benefit from this. 

 

So, many systems that are not unlike but not quite like the circular wuxing arrangement are merely simplifications -- the real multidimentional thing is not easy to grasp with a 3D-world-trained mind.  Not easy but not impossible down the road. :)  

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The version of wuxing where Earth is placed in the middle is the outcome of cross-pollination.  The original taoist wuxing is circular.  Non-hierarchical.

 

Interesting. I was not aware of that. Could you elaborate ?

 

I was thinking that is was just a possible representation of the wuxing (The star shaped diagram being another one). In my mind it does not imply any kind of hierarchy: it's a reprensentation of the capacity that Soil has to contain all other forces (It has Metal in it, It absorbs Water, when Wood is burned by Fire the ashes go to the ground).

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I see, the four directions definitely corresponds more with the 4+1 models, or the flattened Wu Xing. Reminding me of the Bagua system also helps as well, this cosmology can be overwhelming sometimes!

 

What I really needed to hear was the Chinese proverb though, thank you Taomeow. I definitely feel at 'home' in this boat, and will take it to the place just to find all the other boats lead there as well. The difficulty was choosing and sailing.

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Interesting. I was not aware of that. Could you elaborate ?

 

I was thinking that is was just a possible representation of the wuxing (The star shaped diagram being another one). In my mind it does not imply any kind of hierarchy: it's a reprensentation of the capacity that Soil has to contain all other forces (It has Metal in it, It absorbs Water, when Wood is burned by Fire the ashes go to the ground).

 

I'll be happy to elaborate a bit later, have no time right now.  Please stay tuned. :)

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Interesting. I was not aware of that. Could you elaborate ?

 

I was thinking that is was just a possible representation of the wuxing (The star shaped diagram being another one). In my mind it does not imply any kind of hierarchy: it's a reprensentation of the capacity that Soil has to contain all other forces (It has Metal in it, It absorbs Water, when Wood is burned by Fire the ashes go to the ground).

 

OK, here goes.

 

The representation of the wuxing as a square arrangement of four of the phases, with Earth at the center of the square, introduces the idea of a "center."  Everything else of necessity becomes the "periphery."  Central authority, central government, central idea, one true god, dominant race, gender, social stratum, etc. etc. -- everything else starts revolving around this "central authority." 

 

And the cultivator who places herself in this central position, that of Earth, as these systems suggest, excludes herself from reality and destiny.  That's because in reality each of us is comprised of all five phases (if all goes well -- I've seen many charts from which one or two or, in an extreme case, three were missing), and our central, main phase (in terms of Chinese astrology, either "proprietary, Self phase" or "dominant, most abundant phase," which don't always coincide) can be anything -- not "always Earth" by any stretch of imagination. 

 

As for all other elements (phases of qi, which is the term I prefer) being present in Earth -- true, but this is also true for each and every one of them.  Their proportions are different, however.  Earth can be Wet (Earth with Water) or Dry (Earth with Fire), but in any event it will be controlled by Wood and will control Water and will produce Metal and will be produced by Fire.  Water can be Muddy (Water with Earth), Hot (Water with Fire), Metal can be Fluid (Metal with Fire), Fire can be Explosive (Fire with Metal), in other words, not only the combinations of any one phase with others but their position as "mother" or "child" phase, "controlling" or "controlled," their proportions within a given wuxing combo, and their yin-yang affiliations are always unique and change from person to person and from phenomenon to phenomenon. 

 

Earth placed in the center is stuck in a yin position -- internal in relation to other phases -- yet often treated as "pure yang," the main honcho of hierarchical systems.  A double entanglement.  What about Earth in the real circular mutual creation/destruction cycle of phases, which is yin part of the time and yang part of the time, depending on the Earthly Branch and Heavenly Stem that change positions every year?  Earth in the middle is "unchanging" -- this is not taoist, the way of tao is cyclical change. 

 

A lot of confusion is also generated by mixing other systems into wuxing -- e.g. Earth of the Earthly Branch is a type of qi that is not related to Earth of wuxing, although the two interact -- but they are not the same energies.  Let alone "elements," since Earth of wuxing can manifest as an "element" earth too, dirt, soil, planet -- but Earthly Branch is a cosmic pattern of qi both affected by Earth the planet being there and affecting it.  Its mystical aspects are derived from completely abstract phenomena (numbers) that have to be tackled within their own "palaces" quite independent of the wuxing sytem.  Reducing  Earth to just one kind and fixing it as 'only" part of wuxing misses out on an altogether different system it is also part of.    

 

Also sprach Taomeow.

Edited by Taomeow
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In the Classical Indian traditions, the elements are Akasa "space", Agni "fire", Bhumi/Prithvi "Earth", Jal "Water" and Vayu "Air". But they are derivatives of Purusha (Consciousness) and Prakriti (Energy).

 

http://www.swamij.com/prakriti-purusha-sankhya.htm

 

prakriti.gif

Edited by dwai

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I understand what you mean about hierarchy. But I think the diagrams in themselves are just representations and do not carry this notion. Of course the passive position in the center, receiving all other influences, provoques this kind of interpretation, but we could very well put another element in the center to emphasize how it can take care of the energies from the four others.

 

If we look at the circle (generation cycle) and star (control cycle) diagram, well it is a pentacle.

 

But form where did the pentacle came from, before being a fancy esoteric neo-stuff symbol ? Here is an article:

 

http://web.eecs.utk.edu/~mclennan/BA/PP.html

 

The author has a hypothesis about how elements should be associated with the five points. If he's true the pentagram is close to the circle diagram. Notice that the mesopotamian pentagram is associated with the five planets. Four representing the four directions and the last one (Venus) the vertical axis in the middle. So it correspond to the square diagram as well.

 

Joel Signeur tells us about the symbol he uses to protect himself from entities:

 

http://www.chineseshamanism.com/page7/page10/page10.html

 

It is a square below a triangle below a circle. He explains that the square is the material world and the triangle a direction pointing to the circle, the spiritual world. He says that he found out this simbol by himself, only to find out later that is was used in Buddhism.

 

But what is a pentacle if not a square (the four directions) plus a triangle for the vertical direction, and a circle around the pentagram ?

 

So the square symbol with a middle and the star and circle shaped diagrams appears to be related. Variants. At least IMO ^^

 

The planet Venus in the center (that is Ishtar, Anahid) calls for the NE notion of "Mistress of the House" that is the notion of a femine element, passively receiving cosmic energies, but actively distributing them in the world. Suhrawardi gives this name to the Angel of Earth.

 

If we read this like sociology, the Mistress seems to be some kind of projection of a sumissive housewife, passively doing her job in the center, the house. But the ancients did not have the same ideas about gender issues as we do. So it would anachronic to think so.

 

And we should keep in mind that in many traditional societies women are really ruling the house, at the price of being globally excluded from outdoor (or out of village/fields) acitivities. To a society that has not even the shadow of a clue about feminism, this status means a kind of power that is complementary to the ones men own.

 

So yes in a sense it is herarchical, but only if we are aware of patriarchy and his men over women hierarchy. In a society that is not aware of that, this symbol is not consciously hierachical, because gender differences are seen as natural and not as socially constructed.

 

Of course a modern seeker that is aware of this issue may prefer to use the form of the diagram that as no risk of being interprered as a hierachy. But as symbols are just symbols, the hierachy is only in the intepreter's mind.

Edited by Aithrobates

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Since IMO the 'elements' are not things but concepts then the meaning and arrangement of them changes according to the conceptual use. One use I see as   'hierarchical'    -  not so much that  each is 'subordinate' to another, all interact, but there is 'order of manifestation'.-  is in the comparison to 'parts of the psyche' :

 

Very simply;  Fire -  inspiration,  Water - 'feeling' assesment, Air  - 'mental assesment',   Earth - putting the above into action.

 

Many do not understand fire, inspiration, individuation,  connection to spirit , also with water ; emotions are unclear, confused and clouded,  misunderstood, etc.  This leaves the mind to be head of the hierarchy, and many systems teach about the dangers of that, and how the mind needs to be regulated or trained.

 

Of course, without the earth action grounding at the end, the whole exercise was a pipe dream and never manifested.. With out regulation from air - intellect, mentation, calculation, planning, assesment,  inspoirations or feelings dont manifest, or without  intelligent critical ability ... all sorts of phantasms are chased , asserted and believed in.

 

If water is lacking so is feeling, a deeper connection, things have to 'feel right'  sit right in the unconscious,  some even say to 'sleep on' an important decision. What is this but 'running it through' the unconscious? .  And of course, without fire we have no individual inspiration  or good and original ideas in the first place.

 

So most of us chug along, with mind trying to run the machine.   Mind is not the 'ruler' , it has a job to do and should do it in its place of 3rd regulator.  Of course, mind being used to thinking it is boss will rebel at this concept ... its up to us to persuade it and get it to see 'reason'. 

 

Air is interesting in that is also 'pnuema' breath , animating breat and spirit. So air can be  'spirit' or 'element' .

 

Metal ?       I dont see how it fits in , I have never really looked into the  systems with metal included.  From here,  it looks like it is a result of the above 4  ( metal not appearing commonly in nature, it takes human ingenuity and the above 4 principles to make it - in the form we use it.

 

I dont see a gender hierarchy , each element is receptive to the one 'above' and gives its energy to the one 'below'. The 'units' exist in polarities .

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Is it in Suwen chapter 5 it says that wind in Heaven becomes Wood on Earth? Which would point to a (precelestial) earth-water-fire-wind-space becoming (postcelestial) earth-metal-water-wood-fire.

The first being the fabric of the universe(and the path of Reversal), the second the changes between energetic states relevant for TCM/health arts.

At least the workings of them are quite different in dynamic movements versus meditation.

At least for me, but I guess everybody got their own experience.

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Is it in Suwen chapter 5 it says that wind in Heaven becomes Wood on Earth? Which would point to a (precelestial) earth-water-fire-wind-space becoming (postcelestial) earth-metal-water-wood-fire. The first being the fabric of the universe(and the path of Reversal), the second the changes between energetic states relevant for TCM/health arts. At least the workings of them are quite different in dynamic movements versus meditation. At least for me, but I guess everybody got their own experience.

 

This refers to the eight trigrams of Earlier and Later Heaven, not to the five phases of wuxing.  The trigram with one yin on the bottom and two yang on top is actually the Penetrating, and manifests as Wind in heaven and as Wood on earth when it shifts position from Earlier Heaven bagua to Later Heaven bagua, but it's the same trigram in a different position and not the Wood phase of wuxing.  Terminological difficulties.  There's 13 fundamental energies in the world of manifestations, and the names of some of the eight of them seem to coincide with some of the names of the other five when translated.

Edited by Taomeow
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This seem to be the problem when people are trying to make correllations between the different systems and levels of theory. There is a dance between precelestial, postcelestial, bagwa, wuxing, five pure lights and so on.

What a mess!

 

Is it pure coincidental that wind is exchanged with Wood in the two systems of five?

Both are used in daoist tradition.

Or can it be that the Change predicts that wind will become wood when manifestation changes?

Just asking, I Ching is not my area of study.

Edited by Mudfoot
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Would the trigram Dui sort of do the same, I belive I have read some relating Dui to Metal. Could Dui have some aspect of Space?

Just trying to get a grip on the transition, hey, maybe there is none?

 

Just found a picture where both Qian and Dui relates to Metal.

Www.windwaterfenhshui.WordPress.com/Tag/bagua/

 

2:nd edit: Ok, figured some out, new questions pop up in my head. (crack) That was the sound of my former understanding being falsified.

Note: Searching for new truth.

Edited by Mudfoot
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Hey, this is the world of taiji after all -- practitioners of taijiquan know that it is all about constant adjustments.

 

Yes, of course, when you supreimpose five phases ("elements") on eight directions, some of the eight will repeat their wuxing affiliations.  Metal and Mountain are of the same phase.  But the mountains of heaven are clouds, and the mountains of earth are solid.  So Metal and Air are related as are Lungs (Metal phase organ) and breath.  The air we breathe is just a manifestation ("element") -- oxygen attaches to iron in our blood, the molecule so put together is known as hemoglobin, so this is how metal-air is dissolved into our system.  The process of formation of stars, from supernova to collapse, is pretty much about the core collapsing into iron -- "metal contracts" -- so the inherent dynamics of wuxing are present on all levels, micro to macro.  Understanding the five  phases and the eight directions superimposed on each other covers pretty much all there is... the rest is "adjustments."   :D

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So.

A question following this:

 

If you have a system of five (wu xing).

And then you have a system of 5/8, superimposed on the other. Not saying they are the same, because they feel different, but with some sort of relation.

What about the other three, not used.

(Thunder, Lake, Mountain, if I understand it right.)

 

Does Thunder merge with Wind, Lake with Heaven, Mountain with Earth? Is that what you mean with "some will repeat their wuxing affiliations"?

Or are they supposed to be accessed in another way?

Thunder is sometimes related to when spiritual level energy goes through the spine and up all the way to the centers in the skull. But that does not mean they discuss Zhen.

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So.

A question following this:

 

If you have a system of five (wu xing).

And then you have a system of 5/8, superimposed on the other. Not saying they are the same, because they feel different, but with some sort of relation.

What about the other three, not used.

(Thunder, Lake, Mountain, if I understand it right.)

 

Does Thunder merge with Wind, Lake with Heaven, Mountain with Earth? Is that what you mean with "some will repeat their wuxing affiliations"?

Or are they supposed to be accessed in another way?

Thunder is sometimes related to when spiritual level energy goes through the spine and up all the way to the centers in the skull. But that does not mean they discuss Zhen.

 

They are all used, and to assess their energies, you need to look at the attributes of each trigram -- Season, Direction, Weather (to name the basic few), and how they will change from Earlier to Later Heaven.  Thunder of Earlier Heaven is in the position/direction/season of Spring -- northeast -- so, which wuxing phase is associated with Spring? -- Wood, "born in Spring."  And so on.  These things are best worked out with diagrams and practices, lots of practical applications -- choose a taoist art, keep referring to diagrams (just don't get them off the internet, 99% found therein are, for some reason, either way off or at least slightly off, don't know why, they are very simple -- but once they go viral, they go wrong) and studying attributes, and they start falling into place. 

 

I don't think they can be understood separately from practical applications.  It's like separating spring from what responds to spring in nature -- what is spring "by itself?.." -- a calendar designation?..  Someone who has never observed the spring as it interacts with life on earth, patterns in heaven, and other seasons, how it develops out of winter, grows strong, grows weak as it's yielding to summer, is opposed by autumn in everything the latter does --

might not see the connection between Spring, Thunder, and Wood.  But it is pretty obvious once you take a closer look.  Ditto with every other trigram and wuxing phase -- but "taking a closer look" is key.  None of this taoist-fundamentals stuff is superficial, but every step into the depth of these notions is "easy and simple," it's just that they have to be taken in sequence and one at a time -- and not in a hurry -- and there's an infinite number of them.  :)

Edited by Taomeow
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Well, "summer" is (I belive) five days in a row with a average temperature of + 10 degrees celcius or something like that. :D

 

Ok, so the practice continues, I will see if understanding pops up.

 

Recommend any book that is more or less accurate?

From the point of meditation rather than any other application of the five elements and the trigrams.

 

Edit: Gosh, sometimes I'm thick. Excuse; normally we do not use this nomenclature.

My teacher was predisposed to wuxing, both in practice and in his acupuncture style. Thanks for pointing my nose in this direction. This is one of the things I like with this forum.

The other thing is the entertainment when people thrash eachother in the struggle of provning the surpremacy of their Knowledge.

Edited by Mudfoot

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