Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The I Ching

Well, now I've done it. I started re-reading my journals that I kept during the 1980s, and I have remembered something I never use any more, but for two decades I wouldn't make a move without consulting it: The I Ching, or Book of Changes, an ancient Chinese text used to guide the user to understand the present moment and give an idea of how to proceed correctly to the next moment in time. It has been used in one form or another for 5,000 years.

The way it works is that you have somehow to produce six lines, working from the bottom to the top to build a hexagram, which is made up of two trigrams, which are one of these eight here in this diagram.

As an unrepentant hippie, I learned to use this method of divination during those years, using sixteen stones to find my hexagram, and thereby tell me where I was at and where I was going. Seven stones were white, five were orange, three were grey, and one was a bloodstone. I would draw out six stones. If I drew a white or orange stone, it would mean it wouldn't change, but if I drew a grey or the bloodstone, it would change to its opposite, so you end up with two hexagrams, one for the present and one for the future, with moving lines.

Well, I've explained enough of how it works, I think, for my readers. What I wanted to tell you about is how much I followed this method of divination and that I believed in it implicitly. It is not an exaggeration to say I never made a move without consulting the I Ching for guidance. Once I got my hexagram, I needed to interpret it, and I used the Wilhelm/Baynes book to tell me what the ancient Chinese text meant. Usually it was pretty esoteric, but really you had good and bad things come from it, much like (I guess, knowing nothing about it) the Tarot deck.

The one thing I remember is how I needed to formulate my question and find a place of peace and quiet. The whole thing took hours, first to gain a contemplative mind, and then to "throw" the hexagrams, and finally to interpret them. In many ways I now realize that I needed to cultivate a prayerful attitude in order to approach the I Ching. Just for fun, I opened it to a page and took a picture of it, so you can see how esoteric the words of the book are (click to enlarge). That's my handwriting saying "The Ultimate Answer," whatever I meant by that.

Over the years I have lost the stones, but I still have my old book, which I have carried around with me, much used and with so many passages underlined and filled with old memories of hopes and dreams I don't remember any more. I doubt I will ever use it again, but I wouldn't even consider not having the I Ching in my house... just in case.


  1. It all sounds horribly confusing and difficult to use...maybe the whole purpose is to slow one down so your mind opens to true contemplation and meditation...which would solve just about any decision making that needs to be done, right?

  2. I was thinking what Retired One said. The process led you to take the time to think things through and pushed you to think about change and continuity. Interesting!

  3. We all need confirmation that we are making the right decisions in life. We find comfort in reaching our answers in many different ways. For you it is I Ching. For me I rely on prayer. The next person may use a Magic Eight Ball. No matter how we find the solution... the main thing is that we have something to place our trust in.

  4. Oh my! That sounds way too complicated for me!

  5. I would imagine the fact that it's so esoteric allows a person to draw their own answers. I think people enjoy having a guide. It's why so many people turn to the bible or the koran or tarot cards or the ouija board or whatever.

    I personally love astrology. I love the symmetry and the clarity it provides. By astrology I don't mean I read my horoscope each day before I step out of bed. Instead, I've had my birth chart done and know specifics about myself based on where all of the planets were when I was born. It's a bit less generic than your daily horoscope. Still, none of it means anything if you don't believe in it. Or maybe I mean that you get out of something what you put into it, like receiving answers from the I Ching based on the faith you put into the practice.

    I wonder what else you've come across in those old journals.

  6. I have to look on my bookshelf to see if I wrote a date in my I Ching – I kind of remember that I bought one when I live in San Francisco and gave it to a friend who never gave it back to me. I bought another one in the early 80s. My friend in SF used yarrow sticks. I use coins – Chinese if I have them if not Pennies. I have not looked at it for a while but I used to love using it and spent many hours reading the hexagram explanations. I’ll have to look at it again. I am back – I found it – the last paperwork was in there, dated 1/7/1990 – that’s a long time ago.

  7. Interesting.. I have never heard of an I Ching before.
    I just make lists..that way I know what has to be done:)

  8. loving you for posting about iChing on the day of the iPad launch!

  9. The book brings back memories, I have no idea what happened to my copy however. It was a most interesting for a long while but then I moved on to TM. I came along very late in the hippie era but still tried a few things.

  10. Hmm?? I wonder how people would react to finding out the Obamas use iChing to make their decisions?

    Tarot cards, astrology, TM, prayer...they all focus the mind and let it do what it needs to do. Every person has the ability to make good decisions; why do we feel the need to utilize various forms of mysticism instead of trusting our own minds?


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