"In Wonders We Sail, Questing for the Answers in Veil"

Sunday, October 5, 2014

I Ching


The Sixty-four hexagrams : This 19th-century print shows the sixty-four symbolic hexagrams of the I Ching in a quadrate form. 

Do we live in a universe in which objects and events are individual and disconnected, or one where everything that happens is part of a single, vast, interrelated whole, an awesome stream of interconnections stretching from first causes into the remote future? Our present love of analysis and reductionism, suggest the former; mysticism, and the world-views of the ancients and of many modern theoretical physicists, suggest the latter. If the holistic view is correct, there is in a real sense no such thing as chance. Every happening, even the turn of a card or fall of a coin, is caused by a chain of preceding events, whether these be apparent to the senses or not.

The I Ching, or the Book of Changes, one of the oldest methods of divination known to mankind, reflects the philosophy of interconnectedness. Dating back to between 1,122 and 770 B.C., the book has been extensively supplemented by commentaries added by sages thought to include Confucius himself. Briefly, it consists of a set of continuous and broken lines, the former representing "yes" (yang) and the latter "no" (yin). Each permutation of three lines (trigram) or six lines (hexagram) is associated with a particular group of meanings. The toss of a series of coins, or the casting of a bunch of yarrow sticks, determines which of these combinations provides the answer to the question. 

The I Ching symbolizes the universal presence of opposites: night and day, good and evil, fortune and misfortune, and so on. It recognizes that our perception of reality is based on these opposites, but acknowledges that the opposites are mutable and that nothing is permanent. In the trigrams, the two opposing combinations of three continuous lines (Ch'ien) and three broken lines (K'un) each progressively takes on aspects of the other (as shown, above) until the distinction between them disappears; and just as the trigrams flow into each other, so do their meanings. At some point the eight trigrams were put together to form the sixty-four hexagrams, and these together were thought to represent all the basic human situations. To identify which of the sixty-four hexagrams provides the answer to a particular question, the questor takes three small coins (easier to come by than yarrow sticks) and tosses them six times in succession. The combination of heads and tails produced each time determines whether to select a continuous or a broken line: thus, three heads, or one head and two tails, give a continuous line; while three tails, or one tail and two heads, give a broken line. Starting from the bottom the questor records the appropriate line after each throw, eventually ending up with six lines and the full hexagram. Any lines which are produced by three heads or by three tails are known as moving lines, and these are transposed to give a second hexagram, which is taken into account alongside the first. The meaning symbolized by these two hexagrams is then read from the pages of the I Ching, and advice gained as to the relevant courses of future action.


I Ching: The Theory


The future develops out of the present. If we accept that all parts of the universe are interconnected, it follows that to know the present is to know the future. However, our knowledge of the present is only partial, and in divination we cannot know which parts of the present relate to which parts of the future. We can only symbolize aspects of the present in the form of numbers. Once these numbers are known, future events can be calculated from them according to a set of fixed laws. In the I Ching, these numbers are revealed by tossing a series of coins, because everything is meaningful in an interconnected universe. 



The Trigrams


Anyone who wishes to consult the I Ching fully needs the sixty-four hexagrams and attendant explanations, although working initially with the eight trigrams provides a good introduction to the I Ching. Familiarity with the eight trigrams puts us in the right frame of mind to approach the hexagrams. When working with the trigrams we throw the coins three times only, and ignore moving lines. The eight trigrams, together with their names and meanings, are given here (above). The symbols are intended to provide suggestive advice, not instructions. Weigh them in the mind, and go cautiously.





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