Secret of the I Ching
Most people know
the I Ching - if at all - as an oracle, a way of tossing coins or yarrow
stalks to get an answer to any question you might wish to ask
of the 3,000-year-old Chinese Book of Change. Used in this way, the I Ching
has a reputation for responding with sage advice that is often shockingly
specific and helpful. In my own experience over many years Ive found
it to be the most accurate and useful of all the oracles.
However, its use
as an oracle is only the tip of the iceberg. At the core of this ancient
book is a complete philosophy of life that underlies all of its wise advice.
The innermost essence of this philosophy - the real secret of
the I Ching - is contained in the phrase Wu Wei.
Wu Wei means doing nothing. Thats a bit misleading, though,
because the I Ching certainly doesnt counsel laziness! Another common
translation is action through inaction, and this hits a little
closer to the mark.
The I Ching teaches
that it is possible to become so tuned in to the natural patterns
of change in the universe that we can accomplish anything simply by harmonizing
with the energy around us and letting it carry us where we want to go.
the Cosmic Wave
A good analogy
for the idea of Wu Wei is surfing. Just as a surfer does not have to do
anything to be carried along by the power of the wave, so we do not
have to do anything to be carried along by the unfolding energy
Of course, its
not completely true that the surfer doesnt have to do anything:
she has to tune in to the power and direction of the wave. She
must catch the wave at exactly the right time, moving in the right direction,
and skillfully balance on the waves rising swell as it carries her
up and away. If she fails to do this, she will wipe out; but if she succeeds
in harmonizing with the wave, she will be carried along powerfully with little
effort of her own!
The I Ching holds
that there are waves of movement and change circulating continuously
everywhere in the Universe and that, like the surfer, we can harmonize with
these waves and let them carry us effortlessly to our goal, wherever our
destination might be. The trick is to understand the waves of change
so that we can successfully harmonize with them, rather than working at cross
purposes to them and wiping out!
To this end, the
legendary Chinese Emperor Fu His created a miniature model of
the Universe. This model, which was first written down some 3,000 years ago
but probably handed down as an oral tradition from times long forgotten,
is what we know today as the I Ching. It is a collection of 64 six-line diagrams,
called hexagrams, that look like this:
- Inner Truth
The 64 hexagrams
of the I Ching purport to describe - in general terms - every possible situation
that can occur in the Universe! And what is more, they describe in detail
how the forces at work in each situation will ultimately change it into another
situation, and why! By understanding and attuning ourselves with this knowledge,
we become able to practice Wu Wei: letting the natural currents of change
carry us smoothly through life without resistance. Action through
Each line of the
hexagram consists of either a solid line (
) or a line that is broken in the middle
). The solid lines represent Yang
energy (daytime, masculine, active) while the broken lines represent
Yin energy (nighttime, feminine, receptive or reflective). In
the I Ching philosophy, Yin and Yang are said to be the primordial components
of all reality, being the first duality to emerge from the undifferentiated
unity of God (or Tao, as the ancient Chinese termed the Source of All). Yin
and Yang are the basic opposites - the blueprint on which all
other opposites are patterned.
In calling Yin
and Yang opposites, however, it is important to bear in mind that the I Ching
notion of opposites is not an either/or proposition, nor is it
a case of good and evil or right and wrong. In the I Chings view opposites
are not against each other but are rather complementary. They
depend on each other. There could be no daytime if there were no night, no
summer if there were no winter, no up without down. Yin and Yang are mutually
dependent opposites that must always coexist; neither can live without the
other. This is why the familiar Yin-Yang diagram always shows a little bit
of Yin in the Yang side, and a little Yang on the Yin side.
As these two forces
encounter each other, they react in certain orderly and predictable ways,
combining, attracting and repelling. This combining and interacting of Yin
and Yang gives rise to all the things we perceive in the Universe: everything
from the Sun and the Moon and the stars overhead, to the love you feel for
your child or mate, to the falling leaf fluttering to the ground and the
drug-addicted mugger on the streets of New York ... all are just Yin and
Yang arranged in different patterns of interaction!
The purpose of
the I Ching is to help us understand these patterns of interaction (the Law
of Change) and align ourselves with them so that we can keep our balance.
Just as the surfer must stay balanced on the crest of her wave, so each of
us must remain balanced with respect to the movement of life if we wish for
a healthy, happy and harmonious existence. According to the I Ching, a lack
of balance is the source of all unhappiness and misfortune.
We are not always
taught to think like this. In fact, we are often taught the opposite: our
competitive society teaches us to believe that we must win at
everything or there is something wrong with us. We are taught to believe
that if anything is good, then more of it must be better. If a modest income
to support our family is a good thing, then great riches must be a
better thing. If my neighbor has a nice new automobile, then I must
have a faster or more expensive one to be better.
The I Ching, however,
bases its advice on a few basic principles of how Yin and Yang interact in
order to remain balanced and harmonious. Here are a few of these
All things are differentiated
aspects of One Infinity. When all is said and done, we are One.
Yin is the centrifugal,
outward moving force. Yang is the centripetal, inward moving force.
Yin and Yang together produce
energy and all phenomena.
Yin attracts Yang. Yang
Yin repels Yin. Yang repels
The force of attraction
and repulsion is proportional to the difference of the Yin and Yang components.
Yin and Yang combined in various proportions produce energy and all phenomena.
All phenomena are ephemeral,
constantly changing their constitution of Yin and Yang components.
Nothing is solely Yin or
Yang. Everything involves polarity.
There is nothing neutral.
Either Yin or Yang is in excess in every occurrence.
Large Yin attracts small
Yin. Large Yang attracts small Yang.
At the extremes, Yin changes
to Yang and Yang changes to Yin.
All physical forms and objects
are Yang at the center and Yin at the surface.
With these basic
principles, and 64 diagrams that show all the different ways that Yin and
Yang can be combined in basic situations, the I Ching provides sage advice
for all occasions. As you might expect, this advice stresses balance and
harmony. In a given reading, for example, you might encounter such advice
If you attempt
too much, you will end by succeeding in nothing.
The teeth are hard,
and fall out. The tongue is soft and remains.
Great power best
expresses itself in gentleness.
Evil must fall
at the moment it has wholly consumed the good, to which it owed its
As you near the
attainment of your goal, beware of becoming intoxicated with your
It is better to
go on foot that to ride in a fine carriage under false
are not suited to mankind. If they existed, his life would only dissolve
into the boundless.
Once you have gained
inner mastery of a problem, it follows naturally that your outer action will
To rule truly is
The images and
commentaries attached to each of the 64 hexagrams in the I Ching explain
the qualities of that particular combination of Yin and Yang, as well as
indicating how the various forces within a hexagram move, change and interact
with one another. It is no overstatement to say that all the secrets of the
Universe are contained within this remarkable book, and your effort in studying
it will be well rewarded.
And if, in doing
so, you manage occasionally to touch that sublime state of Wu Wei,
action through inaction, strength through non-resistance ... you might reflect
that the wisdom therein is not so very different from the counsel of another
Master, who taught that the meek shall inherit the earth.