The I Ching is an ancient Chinese book of wisdom and divination. Some 3000 years ago, it sprung out of an oral tradition and through centuries of editing, was written down. It is a “holy” book, in importance to be compared with the Bible, the Koran, the Thora or other spiritual, philosophical and religious classical texts. Its title usually is tanslated as:”The Book Of Changes”, “The Classic of Changes”, or “Changes of the Zhou (Zouyi)”.
Here is what Thomas Cleary, a famous translator of Chinese texts writes on the book in the introduction of his translation: “It has been considered the deepest and most difficult of all the classics. Even so, it has been used as a standard resource for more than twenty-five centuries in business, politics, and warfare, as well as in education, culture and religion. Because of the wide range of analogy its interpretation can support, the Book of Changes is drawn on for advice in both personal and professional matters. In this way, over the ages it has become a popular oracle of ancient wisdom.
According to traditional scholars of the Chinese classics, the title of this book, Change, essentially implies adaptation. The underlying question the Book of Changes addresses is how to respond to change – in ourselves, in our relationships, and in the world at large. The reason the book can be interpreted in so many ways is because the words, images and statements are couched in several layers of archaic language, admitting of various literal and symbolic readings Using this flexibility, readings are adapted to the context under consideration by metaphor and analogy.”
One can look at the I Ching as a wise counsellor, who is always there for you, yet will never force you to make a decision, on the contrary. When asked for advice, the answer will always offer you the freedom of conduct. The book often offers you a mirror, when one realizes you always had the answer in you. Thus, the method can be compared with the teachings of Socrates and the book becomes a sort of midwife. In learning how to get a question right, one is, almost uncounciously, directed to the answer (“aha-erlebnis“).
Consulting the book is based on a coincidental ritual: tossing of coins, drawing of cards, counting and shifting of yarrow sticks, etc. Depending on the outcome, the I Ching gives advice through one of its 64 judgements. The judgement is linked to a 6-line pattern of yin () or yang () lines. That’s why the pattern is called “hexagram”. Moreover, each lines has a seperate advice. In this way the book counts 64 x 6 = 384 line texts. It’s remarkable that all possible situations that give rise to advice , even nowadays, are covered by such a limited range of judgements. Remarkable, but not sursprising. Thousands of years ago, questions and answers were marked in tortoise shields or cattle bones and then heated. The cracks, originating from the heating, led the way to the outcome. Now, only a fraction of the millions of bones and shields are dug up. So, through the centuries, a lot of questions came up, but the shaman found out that the advice could be compiled in only a few standard judgments, because often the same answers popped up. Eventually, through a very secure process of filtering, the 64 judgements came into being. So one can be assured that these judgements are firmly “grounded”.
The ideogram for Ching : 經means: standard, loom, channel. Together with I (= change, manoeuvrability, sun coming out behind the clouds) one could think of the I Ching as a loom that, through its warp and weft, shows the pattern of one’s Tao. Since the I Ching shows this pattern in a mere coincidental way, it is inviting to explore the ways of synchronicity.
After all, coincidence is no more than the sudden illumination of the contact between oneself and Tao (cfr. “Indra’s Net”): in the loom of the universe we touch and are touched by it. In the universe of the I Ching this surrendering to coincidence is not “a subjecting to fate”, but the positioning of the Self in a context. Coincidence makes one aware of the cosmic unity, of the enternal NOW, where everything is born and fades away. This proces is not fatalistic, on the contrary: it is a constant challenge to apply and experience the peace and quiet of this cosmic happening in our daily life. That’s our choice and responsibility. This demands an openess of mind and daring to continue in trust and confidence, beyond our fears. This also implies that paradoxical thinking (e.g.: good/bad – black/white – love/hate -life/death -left/right etc.) only is our own creation. Where thinking ends, or is unleashed, the answer is born (cfr. Lao Tze, Tao Te Ching), as natural as we were ourselves before and just after our birth.
A lot of background information & literture can be found at LiSe Heyboer’s wonderful site.
For an in depth reading & consult of the oracle with the expert Han Boering (Dutch with English subtitles) go to: “Reading“
The most famous translation that introduced the I Ching in the West (and was very popular with the hippie movement in the 60ies) is the Baynes version (1950). Baynes translated the original German Richard Wilhelm version. It became popular thanks to the famous forward written by Carl Jung.