A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Friday, 15 February 2013

I Ching

Every so often, perhaps once or twice a year or less, perhaps at a crossroads in my life, perhaps during times of doubt or despair, always seriously and sparingly — I consult the I Ching. I did this the night before last. The throw of three coins six times produced hexagram 62, Thunder on the Mountain (title of the first track on Bob Dylan's Modern Times album!): Hsiao Kuo/Preponderance of the Small. After converting the changing lines to their opposites (I had just one, top line number 6) as you are supposed to do for a more exact reading, this led me to hexagram 56, Fire over the Mountain: Lü/The Wanderer or Pilgrim. I combined the import of both these hexagrams.

Without going into the technicalities of interpretation, I'll give a brief summary of what I gleaned from my reading. My source books were: I Ching Or Book Of Changes translated by Richard Wilhelm with a foreword by CG Jung, The I Ching Or Book Of Changes: A Guide To Life's Turning Points by Brian Browne Walker and Total I Ching: Myths For Change by Stephen Karcher.

In a great storm the wise bird returns to her nest and waits patiently. (Hsiao Kuo)

We are all wanderers in the Unknown. Those who travel beside the Sage are protected from harm. (Lü)

These are difficult and dangerous times — but it's no solution to struggle or be aggressive. Wait patiently for guidance, bide you time, fly low and safe. Don't react with fear, panic or anger. Take non-action rather than action. Be humble, accepting, independent, reliant on your own resources, flexible, adaptable. Think small, take small steps, do small not big things. Don't lose the ground (mountain) under your feet by trying to fly too high (into thunder or fire). Retreat into your centre and stay focused. Harness the power of the yin, the dark, the moon, the feminine, the subtle, the hidden.

This is a time of transition, of being a stranger in a strange land. You have few real friends, but the friendships you do have are incredibly deep and meaningful. Survival depends on treating strangers with tolerance, generosity, modesty, gentleness, caution, sensitivity and lack of pretension, avoiding all disagreement and conflict. Then you will never be alone. Be reserved but also yielding. You are an exile on a quest, a wanderer, a bird flying low through liminal places and spaces. Be open as far as you can, but also be on your guard. Ultimately there is the chance of creative and alchemical transformation. 


Wendy said...

Oh, I really like Karcher's translation. I also refer to the Wilhelm and one by Deng Ming Dao that has a lot of nice detail about what's known of the I Ching's origins.

Though some refer to it often, I tend to consult it only when something seems to need it deeply - like you, "seriously and sparingly" and my goodness if it doesn't ALWAYS come through with something I really need to hear, either to prompt me in some way or to offer consolation or awakening.

Nice to have it pop up on my blog feed today. :)

George said...

This is just terrific, Robert, transformative in itself. I have slowly read the last two paragraphs three times, and, with due respect to Lao-tzu, Buddha, Jesus, and their spiritual companions through the ages, I think it's all right there — there in those two paragraphs. These words need to be chiseled above every door and remembered daily. If we ever learn to convert those words into practice, we will have truly become transformed.

One thing that stands out for me is the idea that "you will never be alone" if you "avoid all disagreement and conflict." That's a new but very meaningful insight for me. Most people engage in disagreement and conflict in the hope that they can change the situation and be in a state of harmony with the world or others. However, the more we resist, the more isolated we become. Very interesting!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your comment, Wendy. Agree with you about the Karcher. Like you, I find it useful and rewarding to combine several different translations and interpretations. And yes, without exception, consulting the I Ching always come up with the goods — quite amazing. It's definitely important for me not to use it too often, it's pretty sacred, and not to be taken lightly like some party game.

Glad you found something enlightening in the post, George — I thought you would. Incidentally, just to be clear, the last two paragraphs are roughly my own condensation and summarisation of the two- hexagram combo I arrived at after the dice throws — such a combination being just one out of a multitude of permutations, a combination unique to me when I initiated the ritual and took my reading. The reading is my own unique synthetic interpretation based on the similar-but-different interpretations of Wilhelm, Walker and Karcher.

Dominic Rivron said...

It's many, many years since I consulted the I Ching! Reading your post reminded me what a wise book it is.

am said...

Hmmm .... Thunder on the Mountain. An interview with Bob Dylan in 1965 first introduced me to the I Ching. I consulted it regularly when my Richard was in Vietnam in 1970. My guess is that Bob Dylan has continued to consult the I Ching.


"... Anybody that ever walks would know it, it's a whole system of finding out things, based on all sorts of things..."

I've been reading Red Pine's translation of the Tao te Ching and learning a few Chinese characters along the way. Now I'm curious about the characters on the cover of your Wilhelm/Baynes version -- instead of 易經 which signifies "book of changes." My I Ching cover has the Chinese character that has the 3 diagonal lines next to what is like an elegant "D."


Enjoyed the readings from your several translations. Thank you for this today.

Ruth said...

I have never consulted the I Ching, but I can see its appeal at special crossroads or dark times when a sign is wanted.

I agree with George that what you've written as your interpretation is a powerful summary of how to live. I often email Inge in the morning before she starts her [difficult] day at work: Be small. Be silent. Of course she can't be silent in meetings, but I mean something like what you've written, which is really full of wonderful images ... a bird flying low through liminal places and spaces.

Truly, Robert, I read this again and again, and these are mantras for a well lived life. I love it.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your comment, am. I know very little about the actual Chinese characters, but I'm motivated to learn more.

The I Ching is extraordinary, Ruth — I think you would enjoy investigating further. I myself am hardly an expert, but I know from experience it's a meaningful and influential method, and can illuminate what we need to be illuminated at certain key periods in our life.
I thought it was quite amazing how I was led to 'small' and to 'wandering' this time.

John Zorn said...

Having once used the I Ching for a while, I then dismissed it as a sophisticated form of astrology and completely irrational - with which even its adherents will concur.

And then years later I realised that actually what I criticised in the I Ching I loved in poetry - its mantic force.

You mention 'struggles and aggression' rather critically. But we remember that Beethoven was called aggressive and he certainly struggled; yet look what wonders he produced. His musical epiphanies, his spiritual insight, - what a treasure he gave us! His chamber music is a joy, especially for the irreligious.

The Solitary Walker said...

Mantic force, yes. And, of course, if you take the irrational out of poetry, you take the poetry out of poetry.

I'm not being critical at all in my reading — I'm just interpreting the two conjoined hexagrams as closely and as sympathetically as I can, and as objectively as possible, with an eye on my own needs, my own situation, and seeing what's useful, what corresponds.

Naturally struggle is an important, inevitable, creative part of life — Beethoven's life being a supreme example. But sometimes we struggle when it's not necessary, when it's even harmful to struggle. Avoidance and apparent non-action (which is a positive action in itself according to Taoism and Zen Buddhism) may often be the wisest course.

John Zorn said...

You write perceptively of "avoidance and apparent non-action". I once began a class in Aikido where this was the underlying theme. It is a sophisticated, demanding ideal - I'm not up to it, to my loss.

Yes, it was with a 'slap' of awareness when I realised that poetry had filled a gap left by rejecting the irrational. How blind I can be for the I-Ching exists alongside poetry.

Poetry can be (perhaps always is) totally rational...tho' every time I try to define poetry I find I can't. There is always another angle not explored, another definition which fits.

Caminante, no hay camino...

SJM said...

The two characters on the front cover of the black and red UK edition of Wilhelm-Baynes translation are oracle bone glyphs. The top one is 'Zhou', (the 'Zhou dynasty'), the bottom one is the early form of 'Yi', ('change'), which probably pictures the sun coming from behind clouds with three slanting rays. The latter character appears in oracle-bone inscriptions in the context of a sacrifice to the sun that seems to be about changing the weather, to bring the sun out again.

So it reads 'Zhouyi', which is the actual oracle before the Ten Wings were added to make it into the Yijing (I Ching), 'The Changes of the Zhou'. On the yellow and grey US edition of Wilhelm-Baynes just 'Yi' appears.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for you additional comment, John... and thanks also to SJM for the explanation of the Chinese characters on the Wilhelm book.