An Interview with the I Ching
Once the sages of Ancient China set the shell of a giant tortoise upon the coals of a sacred fire. After many hours of careful watching, the shell cracked, splitting along the weaker lines of its hexagonal plates. It was from the resulting patterns and the images they suggested that the first oracles of the I Ching were divided.
Centuries, dozens of them, have passed since its legendary inception. Great masters, such as Lao-Tsu, King Wen, and Confucious influenced its arrangements and expanded its scope, releasing its poetry anew by their work. A time came when no one in China, whether found in the marketplace or in the palace, lived beyond its influence. Even the Emperor turned to the I Ching for help when the Mongols laid siege to the northern wall.
Throughout history the I Ching has been a book of practical considerations rather than philosophy. Some revere it as a scripture; some see it as a fortune teller or as some combination of the two. But, first of all, it is a counselor, and it suggests that there is in all things, a great coincidence. The sun rises and the moon sets. Morning comes and the flower opens, and every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
The most common method used for referring to the I Ching is the throwing of coins…different combinations of heads and tails determine a selection from the 64 hexagrams of which the "Book of Changes" is composed.
The I Ching is above all practical, beyond the dogma of its pages, and when the outcome of a toss is translated into words, many lessons appear. If one approaches the I Ching flippantly, feeling no respect, he may receive
the fourth hexagram:
It is not I who seek the young fool;
The young fool seeks me.
At the first oracle I inform him.
If he asks two or three times,
it is importunity.
If he importunes,
I give him no information.
I talked with one person who was familiar with the way that the I Ching seems to open up its pages to the very spot most relevant to the inquirer. She seemed reluctant to discuss the whole matter at first as if she feared to betray a friend by talking about him in a casual or curious manner.
Finally I asked her, "How come it works?" There was quite a long pause. Then she told me, "Because of the intensity of the desire."
I found an old friend who also relied on the I Ching for counsel and he told me this story:
"I remember the day we missed our plane, only to be absent when it crashed. On that day we sat in our room and threw the three coins. The I Ching spoke of ancient mountains and warned of standing still. I remember the feeling I had, how lucky I felt. I looked into its cryptic face and again the I Ching spoke: 'A lucky man is called fortunate. But the man who knows the secret of chance, and at every turn is able to increase his luck, he is the keeper of great fortune indeed'."
Another person I spoke with told me why she appreciated the "Book of Changes" more than astrology, palmistry or any of the other more popular occult sciences and pastimes: "There's an intimate connection that you have with it. It's as if a person is talking with you, as if there is some unidentified source of wisdom. I know that some people feel that the language is hard to understand, but it's really not as difficult as chess, or even monopoly."
Keeping her words in mind, I decided to attempt an interview with the book. I had two questions to ask:
And It Is Divine: Could you tell me something about yourself? (I tossed the coins six times, according to the instructions given in the book and drew the hexagram marked #40.)
I Ching: A time of deliverance from burdensome pressure/has a liberating and stimulating effect on life…
However, there is a powerful inferior in a high position who is hindering the deliverance. He withstands the force of inner influences, because he is hardened in his wickedness. He must be forcibly removed, by appropriate means.
A thunderstorm has the effect of clearing the air; the superior man produces a similar effect when dealing with mistakes and sins of men that induce a condition of tension. Through clarity he brings deliverance.
There is a relationship of joyousness and clarity and this provides for a possibility of success, at least in small matters.
(I understood the answer that the I Ching gave to mean that it considered its advice to be capable of "deliverance from burdensome pressure…," that it has the effect of "clearing the air." The "powerful inferior in a high position" could be refering to one's own doubts and questions that continue despite the simple, though symbolic counsel of the I Ching. In other words, the mind.)
And It Is Divine: Would you describe the state of the world?
I Ching: Abysmal. Man is like water in a ravine, yet he can escape if he behaves correctly. People have grown accustomed to danger. Water sets the example for the right conduct under such circumstances. It flows on and on, and merely fills up all the places through which it flows; it does not shrink from any dangerous spot, nor from any plunge, and nothing can make it lose its own essential nature. It remains true to itself under all conditions. In danger all that counts is really carrying out all that has to be done —
thoroughness — and going forward, in order not to perish through tarrying in the danger.
By growing used to what is dangerous, a man can easily allow it to become part of him. He is familiar with it and grows used to evil.
Every step, forward or backward, leads into danger. Escape is out of the question. Therefore we must not be misled into action, as a result of which we should only bog down deeper in the danger; disagreeable as it may be to remain in such a situation, we must wait until a way out shows itself.
And It Is Divine: You say that one shouldn't act or will find one's self in an even more dangerous situation. Can't one do anything at all? I Ching: All beings have need of nourishment from above. Clouds give rain to provide mankind with food and drink. The rain will come in its own time. For this one must wait. Strength in the face of danger does not plunge ahead but bides its time, whereas weakness in the face of danger grows agitated and has not the patience to wait.
Waiting is not mere empty hoping. It has the inner certainty of reaching the goal.
One is faced with a danger that has to be overcome. Weakness and impatience can do nothing. Only a strong man can stand up to his fate, for his inner security enables him to endure to the end. It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any sort of self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events by which the path to success may be recognized. This recognition must be followed by resolute and persevering action.
The situation is one in which a strong, firm nature is faced with danger. What is required of the individual is restraint. He must await the proper time. If he does not weigh the time conditions sufficiently and presses forward, ruthless, angry, and restless, he will certainly meet defeat.
Waiting also means holding back. Danger lies ahead, but being firm and strong, one does not fall into it. One does not become perplexed or bewildered. It is good to remember that nourishment depends on heaven and the rain. It does not lie within the power of man.
Waiting. If you are sincere
You have light and success.
Perserverance brings good fortune.
It furthers one to cross
the great water.
Water flows on uninterrupted
and reaches its goal:
Thus the superior man
walks in lasting virtue
And carries on the business of teaching.
Note: Although there are several different versions and translations of the I CHING on the market, only one is without peer. This is the Richard Wilhelm/Cary F. Baynes translation of the Bollingen Series (XIX). printed by the Princeton University Press. The material for our interview was freely adapted from this.