The I Ching, a book of predictions written in classical Chinese, is one of the most ancient books in the Chinese canon. This book of advice and decision-making is comprised of 64 hexagrams.
It is generally agreed that Fu Xi penned the I-Ching, often known as the “Book of Changes,” about the year 1000 BCE. Taoism and Confucianism share “common roots” in the I-Ching, according to German sinologist Richard Wilhelm. Over the course of thousands of years, and despite widespread book burning under the reign of Ch’in Shih Huang Ti (around 200 BCE), the book has persisted in a wide variety of formats. According to Wilhelm, the I-Ching and its hexagrams are a relic of the “last truly autochthonous culture” and represent “a living stream of deep human wisdom” with continuing relevance.
Poetic, prophetic lines of text, replete with cultural and historical references, have been assigned to the 64 hexagrams that the binary code is set in over the millennia, beginning with King Wen and his son the Duke of Zhou around 1046 BC. Commentaries describing, pictorializing, and interpreting the hexagrams are added by Confucius (or scholars attributing their writings to Confucius) five centuries later.
The I-Ching is shown more briefly in a video by Benebell Wen on YouTube.
The I-Ching: Wisdom from the Ancient
Fu Xi’s (伏羲) I-Ching was read and respected by two of China’s most famous philosophers: Lao Tzu and Confucius. Confucius edited and annotated an early version of the book, and it served as inspiration for some of Lao Tzu’s aphorisms. The primary goal of the I-Ching is to broaden the reader’s horizons by inculcating a set of virtues and discouraging the pursuit of egotistical goals.
These characteristics are grounded in the knowledge and experience of real people. It’s not that reading the I-Ching will magically transform you into someone with these traits; rather, it’s about putting the teachings into practice. In the end, we are given two pieces of advice: follow our better selves and figure out how to deal with the bad influences you and others provide.
The I-Ching imparts several fundamental virtues, including but not limited to modesty, peace, restraint, independence, humility, acceptance, awareness, adaptability, innocence, simplicity, detachment, perseverance, sincerity, joy, equanimity, patience, openness, devotion to inner truth, compassion, neutrality, and conscientiousness. The I Ching also imparts knowledge regarding detrimental forces linked to the ego, including fear, anxiety, wrath, desire, arrogance, aggressiveness, harshness, cunning, goal orientation, and greed.
The pragmatic nature of the instruction provided by the I-Ching stems from its recognition of the underlying presence of both positive and negative aspects within individuals’ characters. Therefore, it offers pragmatic guidance for effectively maneuvering through challenging circumstances.
The I-Ching has been utilized for an extensive period of time to assist individuals in various aspects such as decision-making, conflict resolution, personal development, and relationship issues. The introductory section of the book establishes the notion that, superficially, the I-Ching is perceived as merely a literary work.
Nevertheless, it transcends the mere classification of a literary work. The entity in question can be described as a dynamic and sentient source of wisdom.According to the book, individuals who incorporate the lessons of the I-Ching into their daily lives would ultimately attain a state of “prosperity, comprehension, and tranquility.”
The I-Ching Hexagrams and Clairvoyance
Cleromancy is a sortition procedure in which lots are picked. It can take many different forms, such as rolling a die or selecting a card, straw, or stalk. While cleromancy is based on chance and the outcome appears to be random, some believe it reveals God’s purpose.
The I-Ching directs our attention to the present moment, to the here and now. It sometimes advises us on the best course of action to take in our current situation, and other times it advises us on meditation and calm. When you first consult the I-Ching, it’s like playing a game.
The I-Ching, according to Wilhelm, differs from soothsaying or fortune-telling in that it contains a moral dimension. It is not as simple as being dealt a card or having one’s fate revealed. Instead, advice is given on how to attract good fortune and prevent catastrophe. It addresses current issues and places the individual’s future in his or her own hands.
Yarrow stalks, which were thought to be derived from sacred plants, were traditionally used. In modern editions of the book, shaking three coins in your hand and dropping them is recommended.
Heads are worth three points while tails are worth two points. The three coins’ values are then totaled together. If the number is odd, an unbroken line is drawn; if it is even, a broken line is drawn in the center. This procedure is repeated until a total of six lines are drawn.
Especially for the novice, a short video might be helpful.
The sixty-four hexagrams of the I-Ching are represented by the six-line combinations. The next step is to find the hexagram in the book and examine its meaning. Lines with the values 6 and 9 are considered “changing” lines, and their corresponding text lines are also read.
A new hexagram is made by switching the lines around so that they are the polar opposite of what they were before. The corresponding hexagram sentence is then read aloud.
The upper and lower trigrams combine to form each hexagram in the I-Ching. There are eight possible combinations of upper and lower trigrams, and each trigram is allocated one of those combinations. Heaven, Earth, Thunder, Water, Mountain, Wind, Fire, and Lake are the eight elements.
The I Ching’s Symbols
Wilhelm posits that the eight components of the I Ching were originally conceptualized as representations of the various occurrences observed in both celestial and terrestrial realms. These elements possess the ability to transition from one to another, mirroring the dynamic transformations observed in the natural world. The English term “Book of Changes” derives from the concept that every element inside it is characterized by transitionality, mirroring the potential for our lives and psychic states to undergo constant change from one moment to the next.
Each of the eight elements utilized in the trigrams is also ascribed an attribute:
- Heaven – The Creative
- Earth – The Receptive
- Thunder – The Arousing
- Water – The Abysmal
- Mountain – Keeping Still
- Wind – The Gentle
- Fire – The Clinging
- Lake – The Joyous.
So, each of the 64 hexagrams in the I Ching is made up of two parts or characteristics, which can be the same. This mix is like a chemical molecule or a math equation that creates a new property or property trait. Fire + Lake = Revolution, for example, or Thunder + Heaven = Innocence.
In cases like Heaven + Heaven = The Creative, the quality, which is creative power or good energy, is added together. Earth + Earth = The Receptive, which means the ability to give in, accept, and feed.
In the picture above, there is a pair that represents the Taoist idea of Yin and Yang. If “The Creative” is Yang because it has a busy and light tone, then “The Receptive” is Yin because it has a dark and passive tone.
The I-Ching was first translated into English by Wilhelm in 1950. Compared to Walker’s translation, the wording is more poetic. For example, it talks about “the dragon,” which in China is “a symbol of the electrically charged, dynamic, rousing force that shows itself in a thunderstorm.” It is a sign of the power to create. Also, when dragons are described as flying, it means they are strong.
Wilhelm says that the first line of hexagram one, “The Creative,” means “Hidden dragon. Do nothing!” Walker’s version, on the other hand, is more practical: “Darkness still. Don’t move too quickly. The Creative’s light hasn’t come out yet. Wait until it’s clear that the time is right.”
Wilhelm says that the eight images in the trigrams can be understood in more than one way. They used to talk about a family system. The Creative was the father, and the Receptive was the mother. The other attributes were the three boys and three daughters.
In some cases, the Chinese word for the hexagram is also a picture. In hexagram 3 (thunder and water), for example, Chun is “a blade of grass pushing against an obstacle as it grows from the ground.” In hexagram four (water + mountain), Mêng is pictured as “a stream beginning to flow down a mountainside.”
This image reminds us of the poetic and ideographic characteristics of Chinese as a language. According to legend, Fu Xi, the first emperor of China, observed eight symbols on the turtle’s carapace as it emerged from the Yellow River. It is said that he observed three continuous lines and three fractured lines, which led to the development of trigrams. In ancient China, turtle and tortoise shells were used for divination, with the patterns being interpreted in various ways. Additionally, they were used as writing devices.
Carl Jung & The I-Ching
The psychoanalyst Carl Jung utilized the I-Ching frequently, both for himself and for his patients, as is well documented. He even composed the introduction for an edition of the I-Ching. In it, Jung suggests that the I-Ching and “the Chinese mind” are governed by a fundamental element of chance.
Since the selected hexagram is determined by the outcome of the coins and the I-Ching always directs our attention to the present, there is a correlation between the present and the hexagram. This correlation between I Ching hexagrams and the present moment is termed synchronicity by Jung.
In the end, the I-Ching illuminates our blind spots and assists us in successfully navigating life’s challenging moments and turning points. The fact that it has survived from ancient China to the present demonstrates its worth.