20 January 2011

The Times They Are a-Changin

Besides being one of my favorite songs of all time (and being part of one of the coolest introductory credit sequences I've ever seen, in Watchmen), I thought this was a fitting title for my post on I Ching.

I read this book about a month ago (it's pretty short and you could probably read it in an hour or two if you wanted).  The book is about divination, which I obviously don't believe in, so rather than scrutinize the merits of the text, I figured I would provide a short history and explanation before quoting some of the parts that I found interesting, amusing, disturbing, or just representative of the differences between the East and the West.  This is a text that was highly regarded for a long time within China, so it certainly had a significant impact on certain areas of Asian culture.

I Ching ( ), also known as the Classic of Changes, is possibly the oldest Chinese classic that is still in existence today, but there is much debate about the actual age of the text.  In fact, the dates of its creation range from 2800 BC to 206 BC.   The original creation of I Ching is often credited to Fu Xi ( 伏羲 ), who by most accounts is a mythological emperor of China.  He supposedly lived around the 28th or 29th century BC and was inspired to record the 8 trigrams (to be talked about later) when he saw the markings on a dragon arising from the Luo River.  These 8 trigrams were then expanded into 64 hexagrams (by using the permutations of these 8 trigrams) by King Wen of Zhou ( 周文王 ) during the 11th century BC.  King Wen's son, King Wu, explained the significance of each line in the hexagrams.  Confucius also expanded upon I Ching by by writing commentaries on the text and the sum result of all of these actions led to the book in its current form.  It should be noted however, that Confucius' contribution to the text is a matter of debate.

Explanation of the 64 Hexagrams
Each line in the hexagrams is either yin ( ), represented by the broken line, or yang ( ), represented by the unbroken line.  Yin and yang are universal compliments and can be either bad or good depending upon the current situation.  These lines are then combined to form 8 trigrams, which are shown in the figure above.  Each trigram represents qualities that can be applied to the situation at hand.  Heaven represents strength or creativity, Lake represents joy or attraction, Fire represents attention or awareness, Thunder represents initiative or action, Wind represents penetrating or following, Water represents passion or danger, Mountain represents stopping or stillness, and Earth represents receptivity or docility.  Notice the difference in meaning between the heavy yang symbols and the heavy yin symbols.  For example, Heaven, which is heavy yang, shows strength, while Earth, which is heavy yin, shows docility.

As stated previously, this was a text used for divination.  This was accomplished by choosing two trigrams with qualities that were relevant to the current dilemma.  These two trigrams would then lead to two hexagrams, depending on which symbol was on the top and which was on the bottom.  The text concerning these two hexagrams could then enlighten the reader about the correct path to choose.  Each hexagram can also be paired with two other hexagrams, called a primal correlate and a structural complement, for further explanation of the subject in question. 

Some Interesting Quotes

1. The Creative - Heaven over Heaven
Line 6 - Yang - "Dragons that fly too high have regrets."

3. Difficulty - Water over Thunder
Line 3 - Yin - "Chase deer without a guide, and you will only go into the forest."

4. Innocence - Mountain over Water
Line 1 - Yin - "It is advantageous to use punishments to awaken the ignorant."

10. Treading - Heaven over Lake
Line 4 - Yang - "Treading on a tiger's tail, be very cautious and it will turn out all right."

13. Sameness with People - Heaven over Fire
Line 2 - Yin - "Assimilation to others in a clannish way is a route to shame."

15. Humility - Earth over Mountain
Line 1 - Yin - "If humbly humble cultured people use this to cross great rivers, they will be lucky."

20. Observing - Wind over Earth
Line 3 - Yin - "Observe the ups and downs of your own life."

27. Nourishment - Mountain over Thunder
Line 1 - Yang - "It is bad luck to ignore your sacred tortoise and watch me with your jaw dropping."

34. The Power of Greatness - Thunder over Heaven
Line 6 - Yin - "A ram that has run into a fence cannot withdraw and cannot go ahead.  No profit is gained."

41. Reduction - Mountain over Lake
Line 5 - Yin - "If given ten pairs of tortoises, no one is able to oppose.  Very Lucky."

42. Increase - Wind over Thunder
Line 6 - Yang - "Do not increase something so much that it might be attacked; when you set your mind to something, do not be so persistent that it leads to bad luck."

49. Change - Lake over Fire
Line 2 - Yin - "On the day it is done, then you have changed something."

51. Thunder - Thunder over Thunder
Line 4 - Yang - "Thunder falls in the mud."

53. Gradual Progress - Wind over Mountain
Line 1 - Yin - "As geese gradually make their way onto the shore, if the little ones struggle, there is advice, not blame."

57. Conformity - Wind over Wind
Line 3 - Yang - "Repetitious conformity is embarrassing."

61. Truthfulness in the Center - Wind over Lake
Line 6 - Yang - "When a chicken tries to fly up into the skies, it bodes ill to persist."

Overall, I thought this was a pretty easy and interesting read.  I'm sure a person actually reading this for guidance might have a more in depth analysis of the topic, but I was just reading it for the purpose of gaining more insight into Asian culture.  I have read The Analects since reading this book and I will be writing a post on that sometime in the future.  I am also currently reading a book on Buddhism and I may be periodically posting on that material as I make my way through different sections of the book.


  1. 73. The Incidence of being Out of Context - Fish over Lake
    Line 23 - Yang - "Look at this big eyed fish, how it dreams to be a bird, swooping, diving through the breeze"

  2. 88. Orinoco Flow - Mountain over Water
    Line 22 - Yang - "Sail away, sail away, sail away"