By Dale Bruder
The I Ching or Book of Changes is the oldest surviving Chinese classic, and is a venerable compendium of human behavior, both as individual and in groups. Through the ages, over several millennia, into the present, it has retained its position as a book of fundamental universal principles.
Some four hundred years ago the I Ching was noticed by a European missionary for the similarity between its structure and the binary arithmetic a German philosopher-mathematician was just then formulating. A translation of the text was introduced to the western literature in the seventeenth century, beginning an asian influence on the thinking of philosophers, scientists and mathematicians that continues today.
Attributed to four authors between remote antiquity and the fifth century B.C., the I Ching grew from pre-historic notations to sixty-four hexagrams of 384 lines of illustrative text. Written in naturalistic metaphors describing the comings and goings of energy; the I Ching survived book burnings and warlords to become required study for advancement in spiritual and human endeavors.
When viewed historically, the I Ching is revealed as a source book for understanding the general principles in the conduct of the world. Dynasties and empires rise and fall, relationships prosper and deteriorate, generations pass, ideas take on life then become brittle, temporal beings enter and exit the stage yet the I Ching remains an authentic reflection of the unfolding of time.
The book was first noticed by Westerners for the binary structure; the dashed and straight lines. As its name implies, a hexagram is a stack of six lines. Every variation of dashed and straight lines creates sixty four hexagrams. In the binary structure a dashed line represents zero and a straight line represents one; the first computer code.
Accessing the I Ching is done by casting fifty yarrow sticks or three coins six times while holding an inquiry in one’s mind. The casting is counted as 6, 7, 8, 9. The numbers are noted from bottom to top as dashed or straight lines. Even numbers are dashed, odd numbers are straight. A graph of the eight variations of three lines; a trigram, are matched to compose a top and bottom that becomes one of the sixty-four hexagram.
Taoism rose out of study and application of the I Ching. The “Way” as described by Kuo Ying, a fourteenth century scholar, represents a universal order or principle. “The word I Ching means change; that is, changing in accord with the time so as to follow the Tao. As a book, the I Ching is vast and comprehensive; by following the principles of essence and life, understanding the reasons of the obscure and the obvious, and comprehending the conditions of things and beings, it shows the way to enlighten people and accomplish tasks”
The ninth century Taoist Lu Tung-pin wrote “although the words are very clear, yet they are also very vague. The shallow may take the I Ching to be a book of divination, but the profound consider it the secret of the celestial mechanism.”
As described contextually, the I Ching is a means of observing and understanding the anatomy of events. In the Book of Balance and Harmony, compiled in the years transitioning the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the role of the I Ching is described:
“The Changes are threefold; there are the Changes of Heaven, the Changes of sages, and the Changes of mind. The Changes of Heaven consists of the principles of transformation. The Changes of Sages consists of representations of transformation. The Changes of Mind consists of the Tao of transformation.
In contemplation of the Changes of Sages, what is important is to understand the representations; when the representations are understood, one enters into the sagehood. In contemplation of the Changes of Heaven, what is important is to comprehend the principles; when the principles are comprehended, one knows Heaven. In contemplation of the Changes of the Mind, what is important is practice of Tao; when the Tao is put into practice, it completes the mind.
If one does not read the Changes of Sages, one will not understand the Changes of Heaven; if one does not understand the Changes of Heaven, one will not know the changes of mind, one will not be sufficiently able to master change.”
There are numerous ways to access the wisdom of the I Ching. Throughout history cultural innovators devised methodologies including divination, mandalas and following different orders of the hexagrams including numerical (1 to 64) and the lunar order based on an agrarian calendar.
As a book of universal principles, it is a gift from the celestial mystery on how to flow in time like water. There are no deity’s to worship nor punishment for nonbelief. The I Ching is plain and simple, an instruction book of creative blossoming.