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I Ching

The Book of Changes

  by Estelle Daniels

The I Ching is said to be the oldest book in existence. Trigrams and hexagrams being used as divinatory systems date from 3000-5000 BCE. Legend says it was invented by Emperor Fu Hsi 2852-2738 BCE, the first recorded ruler in Chinese history. King Wen and his son Duke Chow (ca 1150 BCE) are the main authors of the present text and Confucius and his disciples (ca 500 BCE) authored the commentaries.

The I Ching, is like a Chinese Tarot, and consists of 64 hexagrams. It's based upon the idea of change and the basic duality of the Universe, which runs on a cycle of birth, development, decay, death and rebirth. Change comes from the interaction of Yang and Yin, which make up the Universe or the Tai Chi.

Yang is Heaven, active, positive, male, firm, strong, light.

Yin is Earth, passive, negative, female, yielding, weak, dark.

Nothing is totally Yin or Yang, everything contains both qualities.

Each hexagram (six line figure) is made up of two separate trigrams (three line figures). Each trigram is made up of three lines. Each line can be Yang (unbroken) or Yin (broken) and may also be moving--changing from one to the other. The component trigrams are studied to show the interrelationships in the Universe that are mirrored in the I Ching. There are also two 'nuclear trigrams' contained within each hexagram, lines 2 thru 4 and lines 3 thru 5. Each hexagram's meaning is derived from the component trigrams with influence from the nuclear trigrams. Because of the moving lines there are 4096 possible combinations of answers. Moving lines modify the meaning of the hexagram, showing there is change and how we may modify the situation.

The I Ching's world-view is Confucian/Taoist. The general outlook is that each life is governed by currents of circumstance beyond individual control. The Taoist way is to be like water, gentle and yielding, peacefully going around obstacles yet still flowing to the sea by the most direct route in the course of time. One acts only enough to get by, and no more. The ideal is to act as little as possible and be one with the currents of circumstance. The Taoist is most interested in self-cultivation as a means for effecting withdrawal from worldly affairs. The Confucian view is more active. One follows the currents but acts to make the most harmony and create the least amount of disharmony in the whole. Self-cultivation is a means of shaping the individual, to play the proper part in the circle of family, state and all beneath Heaven. Being in harmony with the world is the desired end point.

People who work with it feel they are being advised by a wise sage. It should be approached with reverence, as it can show anger at the disrespect of frivolous efforts and will not hesitate to tell you so. Its' world-view prizes harmony and cooperation; individuality is subservient to the family, state, society, nation and humanity as a whole. Virtue and harmony are prized over profit. Making the best of existing structures is valued over change to gain 'freedom' or 'happiness'. The family is considered the microcosm of the state and the state a microcosm of the Universe.

In the texts there are many references to the Superior Man, an ideal being who lives in harmony with the Universe and yet does not fail to act forcefully when unrighteousness is present. The Superior Man is perfectly self-controlled, self-sufficient, free from self-seeking motives, able to be firm and serene when others are in chaos. Impervious to loss or gain, he acts only when necessary and refrains from acting when things are best left alone. He deals with what he can and leaves the impossible alone and does not waste effort--like the Serenity prayer. He enjoys the pleasures of life but also meets adversity or deprivation without complaint. Infinite compassion and patient acceptance are united in him. Fools think he is a bigger fool, wise men know him for an incomparable sage. A Zen master also has these qualities. The Superior Man is not divine, he is of this world, not above it. Yet being superior, he also always acts correctly as the situation demands to create the most harmony and virtue. He looks to long-term goals and effects rather than short-term effects and pleasures.

Divination notwithstanding, there is a philosophy of an order, flow and cycle to the Universe indicated by the hexagrams. There are various ways to study the trigrams and hexagrams, and the order of 1 to 64 indicates a cycle of being, growth and enlightenment, like the Major Arcana of the Tarot. By studying these one can attain enlightenment and further ability to fit ones' self into the Universal scheme of things. Pretty fancy stuff which all comes from two lines, broken and unbroken.

© 1998, 2003 Estelle Daniels, all rights reserved.